How to Avoid the MATCH (Mastercard Alert to Control High-Risk Merchants) List

It's a worst-case scenario for a small ecommerce business: The business experiences a rise in chargebacks, so the acquirer terminates the merchant account and adds the business to the MATCH (Mastercard Alert to Control High-risk Merchants) list. For the next five years (unless a business can prove the business doesn't belong on the list), the business will be flagged as high-risk to business account providers. That can make doing business more difficult and more expensive.

To recover, a business will need to find an account provider willing to work with them, as well as bring the chargeback ratio down to an acceptable risk level. Whether a business is trying to avoid MATCH status or working to cope with it, comprehensive payments-fraud controls are crucial.

What Is MATCH?

For those new to the payments industry, MATCH, formerly known as the Terminated Merchant File list, is also sometimes called the Member Alert to Control High-risk Merchants. The list is maintained by Mastercard Worldwide and is also used by Visa Inc. processors and other networks to screen potential businesses before allowing them to open an account.

Many low-risk providers won't work with businesses on the MATCH list. These businesses often must work instead with high-risk specialist account providers that charge more in transaction fees to cover their potential higher expenses.

Chargeback Fees: What Do Chargebacks Cost?

Steps to Take if You’re on the MATCH List

While not ideal, there are steps you can take to keep your business up and running if you land on the MATCH list. Here's what to do:

  1. Contact your processor.
    Immediately get in touch with your processor to learn the specifics of why and when you were placed on the MATCH list. They can give you the necessary information to challenge the decision or to formulate a new strategy.

  2. Look into high-risk processors.
    Having a processor is a necessity for handling card payments. Without one, your business could experience a significant financial hit or not operate at all.
    If you must find a high-risk processor, it’s crucial to pick one that aligns well with your business needs. Select carefully.

  3. Apply for high-risk processing.
    After identifying the right high-risk processor, apply for their services. They’ll ask for an application and some documents to consider before they can approve you:
      • Your last six months of processing statements
      • Your account balance
      • Payment processing frequency and amounts
      • Monthly chargeback numbers

    Note: If your business makes less than $100k a month, finding a high-risk processor willing to work with you might be challenging. Look for processors that cater to businesses with lower monthly revenues.
       4. Revise your business practices.

After getting approved by a high-risk processor, you'll need to work closely with them to reduce chargebacks. They’ll require regular updates and reports to track and improve your chargeback rate.

You might need to adjust your business operations and policies, which could include:

    • Reviewing your terms of service, refund policies, and other systems for potential merchant error chargebacks.
    • Implementing tools like AVV, CVV, geolocation, or 3DS technologies in your checkout process to reduce fraud risks.
    • Adopting a comprehensive approach to tackle first-party fraud, such as friendly fraud and return fraud, which are not as straightforward to detect and prevent as criminal fraud.

Getting Off the MATCH List

Provided there are no new entries, your data will be cleared from the MATCH list after five years. This is your only guaranteed way off the list.

There are two other scenarios that may allow you to be removed from MATCH sooner: 

  1. Your acquirer proves to Mastercard that your inclusion was a mistake. 
  2. You were listed for not following Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS, reason code 12) and have since rectified this.

Either way, getting off the MATCH list under these conditions is often a lengthy and challenging process that still may not lead to success. If your inclusion was a mistake, convincing your previous acquirer with solid proof might get you delisted, but they're not obliged to do so.

For PCI noncompliance cases, even after meeting compliance standards, the decision to delist you lies with the listing acquirer. Mastercard might be consulted, but the acquirer has the final say.

Ultimately, the most reliable method to be removed from the list is to wait out the five-year period. During this time, adjusting your business practices to handle higher processing fees is wise. It’s also important to minimize risks to prevent restarting the five-year countdown due to another account termination.

Chargebacks 101: Understanding the Four Chargeback Types

Your Problem May Be Chargebacks

If your business is placed on the MATCH list, you need to know why it happened before you can address the situation. Excessive chargebacks are the primary reason businesses are put on the list. The exact figure may vary by network and acquirer, but a chargeback ratio higher than 1% can trigger warnings, account closure and MATCH listing.

If chargebacks are the reason for a MATCH status – or if a business isn't on MATCH but its chargeback ratio is rising – the business must understand why it has so many chargebacks. Inadequate product descriptions, shipping problems or unfamiliar descriptors on credit card statements can spur chargebacks. Typically, though, the main reason is fraud. That can come as a surprise to owners of small or new businesses.

Chargeback Types That Lead to MATCH Listings

These are the four chargeback types that can land your business on the MATCH list:

  1. Criminal fraud. Cardholders who are victims of account takeover (ATO) or some other type of card-not-present (CNP) fraud often file a dispute with their credit card company when they discover the issue.
  2. Consumer disputes. In some cases, customers make honest mistakes and file a dispute for any number of reasons, such as not recognizing the company’s name on their statement or forgetting about a recurring charge, such as a subscription. Instead of contacting the business directly, consumers contest the charge directly with their card issuer.
  3. Authorization issues. When businesses don’t obtain proper authorization for a transaction, don’t submit a valid authorization approval, or don’t submit a verifiable authorization, they may be subject to a chargeback from their credit card partner.
  4. Processing errors. Sometimes, cardholders don’t dispute a purchase, but they do claim that the business didn’t fulfill their end of the transaction. These types of processing errors include:

  • A cardholder authorized a transaction but didn’t receive the goods or services from the business.
  • The consumer cancels a recurring transaction, but the business doesn’t process the cancellation.
  • A transaction charge was processed more than once.
  • A customer returns an order, but the business doesn’t refund the credit card.
  • The transaction amount the business submits differs from the amount the cardholder agreed to.

Aside from chargebacks, there are a dozen other reasons that can also result in a business landing on MATCH, including data compromise, business fraud convictions, money laundering, bankruptcy and PCI-DSS noncompliance. Here is a list of examples from Mastercard:


MATCH Reason Code Description
01 Account Data Compromise
An occurrence that results, directly or indirectly, in the unauthorized access to or disclosure of Account data.
02 Common Point of Purchase (CPP)
Account data is stolen at the Merchant and then used for fraudulent purchases at other Merchant locations.
03 Laundering
The Merchant was engaged in laundering activity. Laundering means that a Merchant presented to its Acquirer Transaction records that were not valid Transactions for sales of goods or services between that Merchant and a bona fide Cardholder.
04 Excessive Chargebacks
With respect to a Merchant reported by a Mastercard Acquirer, the number of Mastercard chargebacks in any single month exceeded 1% of the number of Mastercard sales Transactions in that month, and those chargebacks totaled USD 5,000 or more.

With respect to a merchant reported by an American Express acquirer (ICA numbers 102 through 125), the merchant exceeded the chargeback thresholds of American Express, as determined by American Express.
05 Excessive Fraud
The Merchant effected fraudulent Transactions of any type (counterfeit or otherwise) meeting or exceeding the following minimum reporting Standard: the Merchant’s fraud-to-sales dollar volume ratio was 8% or greater in a calendar month, and the Merchant effected 10 or more fraudulent Transactions totaling USD 5,000 or more in that calendar month.
08 Mastercard Questionable Merchant Audit Program
The Merchant was determined to be a Questionable Merchant as per the criteria set forth in the Mastercard Questionable Merchant Audit Program (refer to section 8.4 of this manual).
09 Bankruptcy/Liquidation/Insolvency
The Merchant was unable or is likely to become unable to discharge its financial obligations.
10 Violation of Standards
With respect to a Merchant reported by a Mastercard Acquirer, the Merchant was in violation of one or more Standards that describe procedures to be employed by the Merchant in Transactions in which Cards are used, including, by way of example and not Cardholders, minimum/maximum Transaction amount restrictions, and prohibited Transactions set forth in Chapter 5 of the Mastercard Rules manual.

With respect to a merchant reported by an American Express acquirer (ICA numbers 102 through 125), the merchant was in violation of one or more American Express bylaws, rules, operating regulations, and policies that set forth procedures to be employed by the merchant in transactions in which American Express cards are used.
11 Merchant Collusion
The Merchant participated in fraudulent collusive activity.
12 PCI Data Security Standard Noncompliance
The Merchant failed to comply with Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard requirements.
13 Illegal Transactions
The Merchant was engaged in illegal Transactions.
14 Identity Theft
The Acquirer has reason to believe that the identity of the listed Merchant or its principal owner(s) was unlawfully assumed for the purpose of unlawfully entering into a Merchant Agreement.

How to Avoid Chargebacks 

The key to avoiding chargebacks is for businesses to think like a customer and anticipate how they might misread and misunderstand the purchase process. Then, adopt practices that make the process abundantly clear and straightforward, for example:

  • Establish and maintain exceptional customer relationships
  • Confirm orders through multiple channels
  • Clearly communicate shipping and delivery information
  • Require signatures at delivery for high-value orders
  • Make getting in touch with customer service easy
  • Ensure clarity of business names on bank and credit card statements
  • Keep customers informed of delays or changes
  • Make policies prominent
  • Provide unique identifiers for digital goods
  • Create an easy return process

How to Dispute a Chargeback and Win

The Best Chargebacks Defense Is Comprehensive Fraud Prevention

At ClearSale, we use a hybrid approach that leverages the benefits of approving almost all valid transactions and declining clearly fraudulent transactions with precise accuracy. In fact, our AI-enabled technology uses an auto-approval algorithm that clears 97% of orders. Only about 3% of orders (at a maximum) are flagged for secondary review by our team of fraud analysts, who compile what they learn from those reviews and feed that intelligence into our approval algorithm to teach it to be even more accurate over time.

This allows us to deliver immediate decisions to our clients. In other words, we leverage secondary reviews for better accuracy and faster decisions — which actually improves the customer experience. And our clients see lower chargebacks, lower false declines and higher approval rates.

Secondary reviews help protect the rest of your customers who rely on you for safety and security when they’re shopping on your site. By following these tips, you can conduct secondary reviews in a relatively frictionless way that actually benefits your customers and your company.

ClearSale Chargeback Prevention and Management

Even with a highly effective fraud prevention solution, your business may experience some chargebacks. For those instances, you should consider a comprehensive chargeback protection and management solution.

By choosing a customized chargeback management approach, ecommerce businesses can also breathe a little easier knowing they’re protected against the increase in fraud attempts and poised for long-term financial success. 

Businesses need to be able to protect their revenue against costly chargebacks while preventing costly false declines — and they don’t have a moment to lose. At ClearSale, we have the proven experience to let you confidently accept more transactions without the risk of business-damaging chargebacks. Contact us today to learn how easy it is to get started.

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