No, Citibank, TidBITS Does Not Sell Cryptocurrency

Originally published at: No, Citibank, TidBITS Does Not Sell Cryptocurrency - TidBITS

After discovering a bunch of failed TIdBITS membership renewals, Adam Engst spent the week working with Stripe support to figure out why Citibank was refusing to honor payments to TidBITS Publishing, claiming that they were for cryptocurrency.


Oh, good grief. You were a lot more patient than I would have been.

As an aside, the MCC is an important item for some bonus categories with some credit cards, and (as far as I can tell) it’s almost impossible to learn it in advance. For example, I had a card that paid extra points when I charged “dining” to it. It turned out that a charge at The Crumpet Shop in Seattle, where I ate on-premises, returned a text category that looked like it qualified (I don’t recall what it was, but if someone asks, I’ll try to find it) but the 4-digit code indicated Bakery and so it didn’t qualify. I have yet to meet the customer-facing retail store employee who knows what the store’s MCC is.

1 Like

Why does Citibank think that Computer Programming means Cryptocurrency? If the MCC changed in 2020 why did you start having problems now?

1 Like

I think Brian was being very unfair to his neighbour’s dog, comparing it to IT/bank helplines!


TidBitsCoin cryptocurrency is nice branding and could create another revenue stream. (I’m kidding…who wants a negative revenue stream?). Lately, my mantra has been: Life is short, the day is long.

It sure seems to me that Stripe (and all other payment processors) should inform you and have you verify the MCC!!

1 Like

Even though I was not personally affected by this problem, I greatly appreciate the work and time you put into this problem.

This is one reason I will continue to support TidBits!

1 Like

We’ll, there was an article on the site about crypto and investing in crypto, but it was way too long to read. Just reject the transaction to be on the safe side. I mean, it’s not like they’re a customer. Or even a rich customer.

I wonder if crypto exchanges purposely use bad MCCs to get around the issue of buying and selling crypto with credit cards. They’ll claim they’re a programming site that sells computer books.

The automated categorization is definitely something to follow up on, but what if it was stupider?

What if… it was because there’s BIT in the name?

(Edit) FWIW I did see that the problem was resolved and the payments went through, but like Beatrix W. above, it seems very strange that “computer programming” would be taken to mean cryptocurrency to me.

There’s no way of knowing what the real reason is. Modern anti-fraud systems are complicated beyond the ability of even the sites own engineers to understand.

I’ve frequently has transactions blocked (by big-name companies like Dell, Paypal and Amazon), all without any explanation. And even after hours of calls to tech support and escalation all up the chain of command, nobody has ever been able to give a satisfactory explanation why.

In my case, the banks always say they never received a charge request, and therefore never denied anything. The merchant then says something like “something about your purchase set off a fraud alert”, but they are unable to tell me what it was. Apparently, Dell thinks it is suspicious that you might want to buy a computer from them.

When pressed, they usually end up providing an obvious BS argument. Most recently it was “your e-mail address doesn’t include your full name”. As if no honest person ever uses an e-mail address without his full name it it, and no fraudsters would ever create a bogus mailbox with my name at some popular free-mail site. And the fact that I had used that e-mail address in the past from that same merchant, didn’t matter at all.

Then they inevitably start making insane demands like asking me to send them notarized documents that prove my ID. The kind of documents that would be worth a small fortune to an identity thief, and which even the bank issuing my home’s mortgage didn’t ask for. At which point, I tell them to take a flying leap and usually never do business with them again.

1 Like

Oh jeez, that in conjunction with the Computer Programming MCC is as good an explanation as anything else.

At least one of the TidBITS folks I talked with had that happen too.

A few decades ago, it wasn’t unusual for my credit card to stop working at inappropriate times because of fraud detection.

I was helping my son get setup in Houston for an internship. I was in Target getting him stuff he needed for his new apartment when my credit card stopped working. Then the hotel called me and told me the hold on my credit card was rejected.

I called my credit card company, and they explain there were a bunch of recent unexplained charges on my credit card. For example, there were these plane tickets from New York to Houston and all of these charges for Houston for a hotel and then a large purchase at Target.

I explained that it was me, and that I was helping my son settle in Houston. No problem they told me. They’ll call me at my home number. I can answer it and they’ll remove the lock from my credit card. I explained I wasn’t home, I was in Houston about 1500 miles away. Can my wife answer my phone. No it has to be me because it was my credit card. I explained I couldn’t even get home if I wanted to because I couldn’t buy a ticket for a return flight.

I frantically worked with my wife to forward our home phone to my cellphone, so my credit card company could call me and unlock my credit card. We finally got it to work. My credit card called me on my home phone, I answered on my cellphone, and my credit card was unlocked.

Unfortunately, I suddenly realized I couldn’t call my wife back to tell her how to stop forwarding the calls to my phone. We couldn’t get that done until I flew back home.


Financial institutions eh? They’re just not geared to resolve anomalies. I think their employees have the same training as politicians (well British ones at least). Never accept there’s a problem. Ignore all evidence. I think it’s called lamplighting.

On the issue of banks not allowing credit cards to be used to buy cryptocurrency. I don’t think it’s anything to do with volatility. Neither can you use them for gambling debts or any other cash-like transaction. For those you have to withdraw cash and use that—paying the issuing bank a handsome fee for the privilege, plus a hefty rate of interest starting from the moment of withdrawal. Otherwise you’d be using credit to buy cash. This is considered, probably with some justification, as a very slippery slope by central banks.

This is why I still call my credit card companies ahead of time when I’m flying internationally — though even that doesn’t always work.

(I genuinely had a conversation from France where they acknowledged that there was a note on my file that I was traveling to France but nonetheless there these suspicious charges from France)

1 Like

This story made it into Apple News+, at least in the UK. Well done @ace for becoming an international journalist.
One big step up from being a publisher of a newsletter with an international audience.


Amazingly, this hasn’t been an issue for a long time. I haven’t called my credit card commoner when I travel.

However, they are amazingly quick. My son got off our train station and he got a call from hide credit card company. Did he just purchase a train ticket at the next station? He looked and realized his credit card was missing. Someone picked it up, got off at the next station and bought a $5 ticket to see if it worked. Somehow, the company felt it was suspicious purchase and immediately contacted my son.

I had never heard of the MCC before, but it could explain some of the mysterious categories that Quicken uses to describe companies that show up on my credit card charges. Why don’t they contact the companies they list and ask what their products are? Is that just too simple?

I’ve had the same experience, occasionally with Amazon. Once I made the mistake of attempting to update my email address right before I placed an order for a laptop. This act seemed to trigger their fraud alert system, and I’ve had trouble buying electronics using Amazon ever since. At other times, I’ve had charges refused when I was at a store or restaurant. In all of these, my credit union said that there was no charge for them to refuse, although on at least one occasion they were able to dig into the matter further and find the refused charge. (I’m sorry that I don’t remember any details, the most recent occasion was a few years back.)

Financial institutions eh? They’re just not geared to resolve anomalies. I think their employees have the same training as politicians (well British ones at least).

It depends on the bank and the department.

I used to work credit card disputes for a large global bank (not Citi, but similar in size and scope). In disputes, we were given extensive training, to better help customers identify transactions (a huge number of supposed “fraudulent” charges reported by customers are actually cases where they just don’t recognize or remember the charge or the merchant for a variety of reasons). That training, btw, included MCCs, which when assigned automatically are determined by an inscrutable method that nobody understands.

The fraud department, otoh, seemed to be trained and staffed by drunken pelicans. We in Disputes hated having to send cases to Fraud because half the time they would come back to us for no valid reason. I had cases where we pulled the signature slip, the customer said flat-out, “That’s not my signature” (which automatically and immediately makes it a fraud case), and Fraud sent it back to disputes because “customer has purchased from similar merchants in the past”. (Not even same merchant, but other merchants with the same MCC.)

Generally speaking, if you want someone to actually try to figure out what happened and resolve your issue, your best bet is to talk to someone in Disputes rather than in Fraud. It’s not a sure thing—there are a lot of lazy reps in Disputes too—but dispute specialists are more likely to have been hired and trained to be problem solvers rather than automatons.


These insights are the best thing I’ve read all day. :slight_smile:

And now I can’t get the image of drunken pelicans out of my head.