When I visited Canada a few months ago, I was surprised to see that they used credit cards differently than in the United States. Instead of “swiping” my card, the cashiers made me place my card into a slot reader for a few seconds. When I asked about it, they said it was to “read the chip.” At the time, I didn’t even know my card had a chip on it and quickly forgot about it, thinking it was another bizarre Canadian custom.
Fast forward to three months later and I am preparing for a trip to Europe. Being the fastidious traveller I am, I call up my credit card company asking for a pin to use with my credit card for international purchases. The customer service rep lady said that pins are no longer required because all new Visa cards switched to chip readers instead. And then it dawned on me, while everyone else in the world was using chip readers, Americans were still sliding their cards.
But unlike the metric system, the US finally decided to join this time. Like me, you are probably pondering why we’re changing to chip readers and what they are all about.
The technical word for them is EMV, and it stands for “Europay, Mastercard, and Visa.” New credit cards will now be issued with tiny computer chips that are exceptionally hard to crack. If you got a strange letter in the mail from you credit card company with a new card, chances are it has this technology.
Did you know that nearly half of the world’s credit card theft takes place in the United States even though only a quarter of all credit card transactions occur here? The change is in response to the major data breaches that happened to retailers last year. Now banks are in a hurry to switch over to EMVs before another credit card data infraction occurs.
Yes. The small gold square you see on new cards are substantially harder to counterfeit than old magnetic cards because magnetic strips contain fixed data. Anyone who gets ahold of that data can see sensitive information about the cardholder and will have the ability to make purchases. Identity thieves often trade stolen credit card data for money. EMV cards, on the other hand, create unique transaction codes for every payment.
“If someone copies a mag stripe, they can easily replicate that data over and over again because it doesn’t change,” says Dave Witts, president of US payment systems for Creditcall, a payment gateway and EMV software developer. Hackers can no longer steal credit information from a single purchase “because the stolen transaction number created in that instance wouldn’t be usable again and the card would just get denied,” added Witts.
Although EMV technology does not fully prevent data breaches from happening, it will make it more difficult for hackers to benefit from credit card theft. Pundits hope the change will decrease the amount of fraud in the US, which has doubled in the past seven years as hackers have stayed away from countries with EMV cards in place.
Retailers and business owners will have to buy new EMV processing devices that can read the card. If your business doesn’t have a new chip reader, you could be liable for fraudulent card transactions. It can be an inconvenient expense for small businesses, but will benefit consumers who are worried about credit card theft. The downside for shoppers is the longer wait time of chip readers and not having the satisfying feeling of a “swipe.”