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Online bank denied Visa after cables burned

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Customers of online bank smile report problems accessing their accounts online following a suspected arson attack in Manchester which damaged the city's telecom infrastructure yesterday.

A notice on the Manchester-based bank's Web site (headed We do like bonfires, We don't like them down BT manholes!) explains the scope of the problem.

"Vandalism near a BT exchange yesterday caused a problem between our mainframe computer and the computers that handle our Visa card accounts. It also slowed down our internal network which meant we couldn't answer your secure messages as quickly as we usually do," it states.

"smile banking has been unaffected throughout, except that it can't access your credit card account, but all card transactions, payments and purchases are going through as normal."

However Reg readers report been unable to access their online accounts at all since yesterday. Customer service reps warn customers that both Visa and credit card transactions might be affected by the outage since the smile's authorisation system is inaccessible. It recommends customers withdraw cash from LINK ATMs (which are unaffected by the suspected attack) or pay by cheque instead.

Direct debit or bill payments, which use a different system, are unaffected by the loss of The Co-operative Bank (and smile's) connection. The problem was caused by circumstances outside smile's control, and while you have to winder why it didn't have back up connections for such important systems, smile deserves credit for attempting to inform customers about what's happening during the outage.

BT engineers and techies at smile are working "around the clock" to reconnect to Visa, the bank informs customers. Its unclear when connections will be restored.

As reported yesterday, phone services in Manchester and parts of the North West have been disrupted following a suspected arson attack.

Police were called to two incidents in the early hours of Wednesday morning. In one incident in Salford, a fire started in a wheelie bin near a cable box damaged underground cables. Shortly afterwards, police attended a similar incident nearby, following reports of another fire.

Both BT and business-focused telco, Your Communications (formerly Norweb Communications) have been hit by the fires. Other operators are also understood to have been affected.

Greater Manchester Police are investigating the incident. ®

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