When acquiring banks and transaction processors terminate contracts with merchants for certain risk-related reasons, the merchant businesses and their owners end up on a list called the Member Alert to Control High-Risk Merchants (MATCH). Acquirers must consult the MATCH list before contracting with a prospective merchant, and if there is a possible “MATCH match,” the acquirer must verify the merchant’s identity and contact the listing member directly to determine why the merchant was added to the list.
Today, the MATCH program is maintained by MasterCard International and used by both Visa USA and American Express. Occasionally, some people will refer to this list by its old names, the Combined Terminated Merchant File (CTMF) or Terminated Merchant File (TMF).
Specific listing causes
Many Independent Sales Office (ISO) and Merchant Level Sales (MLS) still have an incorrect or incomplete notion of what a MATCH designation means. The first thing it means is that the listed merchant committed one or more specific acts that convinced the acquiring bank or processor that the acceptable level of risk had been exceeded.
The disqualifying acts include:
- Excessive chargebacks due to merchant business practices or procedures
- Excessive deposits for transactions unauthorized by cardholders
- Credit or debit card fraud conviction
- Excessive deposits for counterfeit transactions
- Deposits for transactions involving sales of goods or services generated by another merchant (“laundering” or “factoring”)
- Suspicion that the merchant is conducting fraudulent activity
Acquiring banks and processors may conduct an internal audit or investigation of a contracted merchant, too. If they have reason to believe that ongoing violations of the merchant agreement may result in increased losses, they can abrogate the contract at that time.
Notification vs. Investigation
Acquirers are supposed to add terminated merchants to the MATCH list as soon as possible. In practice, this means no later than the end of business on the day after the merchant is notified that its contract is being terminated.
The fact is, the MATCH list is accessed much more for investigating new merchant account applications than it is for reporting felonious merchants. Whenever an acquiring bank or credit card processor considers a merchant account application, a name check is done with the MATCH system.
Because of the proliferation of common business names, as well as names of the company principals, an inquiry to the MATCH system can generate many possible listings from all over the world. These may or may not refer to the particular merchant (or principal) being checked. The inquiring firm should always base its acceptance decision on first-hand investigation, using the MATCH data merely as a starting point in the process.
Acquirers and processors are required to contact listing members to learn why they added a particular merchant to the list. The inquiring party, at the very least, will want to know why the processor listed the merchant on MATCH and if there was an associated loss.
The listing member is encouraged to tell the inquiring member, with all candor, why the merchant was terminated. Merchants will often be placed on the list for technical violations of their agreements, or perhaps for several chargebacks that did not cause the processor a loss. When discussing some of these listings, processors occasionally admit to acting “hastily” or allow as how the merchant was “not so bad after all.”
Life after MATCH listing
A popular myth holds that, once a merchant is placed on the MATCH list, it is blacklisted and will never be able to use another processor. However, the MATCH list is set up as an identification system, logging merchants and principals terminated for specific reasons. Card association rules do not prohibit signing up merchants or principals who are on the MATCH list.
The acquirer-member that added a merchant to the MATCH list is the only entity that can request deletion of that specific listing. Additionally, any member that improperly or incorrectly lists a merchant on MATCH is required to request correction or deletion of the file immediately on learning that an error has been made.
The MATCH system is an imperfect yet important part of the information base that allows banks and credit card processors to share important merchant information. However, it is only as useful as it is accurate, so care must be exercised in how merchants and principals are listed. There is no advantage to anyone, merchants or processors, in having inaccurate data being used to make important financial decisions.