Coming Soon: More Secure Credit Cards
Cards with embedded chips will better protect you from card "skimmers"
President Obama recently made news by pushing for wider adoption of high-tech credit cards that store data in embedded chips (known as EMV chips) rather than magnetic stripes (magstripes). After the highly publicized security breaches at Target and Home Depot, retailers, too, are crying out for increased security in the payment technologies they use.
Part of the problem is that magstripes on debit and credit cards can be “skimmed,” meaning they can be scanned in a single swipe by a hidden device that makes a copy of the card’s data. Then the information is quickly sold in freewheeling online stolen-data bazaars.
In response, the credit card industry is moving toward embedded chips, which have been used successfully abroad for decades. Gone will be the quick swipe of old: You will instead insert the card into a slot in the reader and complete the transaction by signing your name. Then the card is returned.
The machine holds your card for a reason: Once inside the reader, the embedded chip generates a one-time, one-use code for that transaction. According to Visa, that code is virtually impossible to replicate, largely ending the risk from skimming.
The Payments Security Task Force, a card industry group, predicts adoption of the new technology by half of U.S. merchants by late 2015 with 575 million chip cards in circulation. Besides chips on cards, the card industry is promoting better encryption all along the technological chain, from the register to the bank and back.
Nevertheless, banks reportedly will stop short of forcing U.S. consumers to use both embedded chips and a PIN, a standard practice in other countries and a step some retailers argue is the point of going to chips in the first place. Notably, card issuers expect retailers to take on the burden of fraud costs once the new chip cards are in place. (Currently, card issuers are on the hook for these costs.)
Card companies want to delay using PINs because, they argue, too much change too fast will confuse Americans and slow adoption. There’s also the enormous cost of switching over to new card readers at millions of points of sale — gas stations, stores, ATMS, basically everywhere. But don’t worry: Cards with chips will work at both old and new terminals, smoothing the transition over time, according to Discover.
Some card companies have already sent chip cards now as replacements for current cards, but the rollout is deliberately slow; the companies can't go too fast because there are so few readers in stores. If you don't have a chip card now and want that extra protection, though, you can ask for one.
While you’re waiting, the Federal Trade Commission offers this advice on protecting your credit and good name from hackers.
Never share your card number over the phone or by email. Scam artists sometimes will pose as your bank and send you urgent calls or emails that suggest your money is at risk if you don’t take some action — like sharing your card information. Hang up, find the company’s number on a bill or your credit card, then contact the organization the caller claims to be from to verify their identity before giving out your information.
Be wary of where you pay. An increasing problem is the faked card reader, often installed surreptitiously inside a gas pump or ATM. These skimming devices can sit in place for weeks and gather data from magnetic stripes for use later by criminal rings. Avoid any card reader that looks altered or broken.
Watch your credit reports. You can get your personal credit report for free from www.AnnualCreditReport.com once every 12 months. That site works with all three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Some experts suggest making requests in a staggered fashion, one from each bureau every few months, in order to keep more timely tabs on your credit.