Contactless credit cards: what you need to know


Be honest, the last time you went to the grocery store, did you feel a little leery about touching the payment terminal? You know, the one that everyone before you got their hands on too?

If so, you are not alone. People find smart ways to adapt to the novel coronavirusstyle = “text-decoration: underline”> pandemic, and one of those ways is contactless credit cards. In fact, they are so popular that Visa recently announced that the use of contactless credit cards in the United States increased by 150% from March 2019 to March 2020.

We’re not here to spread fear, so it’s important to let you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is very little evidence that you can catch the coronavirus from touch hard surfacesstyle = “text-decoration: underline”>. Still, they recommend playing it safe. And on top of that, contactless credit cards have the added benefit of being faster to process, letting you navigate the line and get on with your day even faster.

Curious about how these nifty little tech rectangles work and how they can help you? Read on.

Contactless credit cards are also known as “tap-to-pay credit cards” or “tap-and-go credit cards”. They use a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC). It works like this: When you’re ready to pay, you hover over or tap the card just above the reader. The card itself has a chipstyle = “text-decoration: underline”> and a small antenna inside, which it uses to send your credit card number and a one-time code on that small space to the reader.

This code identifies and verifies the transaction. This means the card doesn’t need to send your name, billing address, or the three-digit code on the back. This way, it is actually more secure than more traditional credit card purchases, such as those made onlinestyle = “text-decoration: underline”>because it is more difficult for thieves to obtain your personal information.

If you’re not sure you have a contactless credit card, there are two ways to find out: either ask your card issuer or look at the card itself. If it is a contactless credit card, a wave symbol will be printed somewhere on it. This logo looks a bit like a Wi-Fi symbol turned to the side.

The merchant will need a contactless credit card reader to accept your payment. You can tell whether or not a reader accepts contactless cards because it will have the same Wave logo prominently printed on the machine.

Americans don’t use tap-and-go payments as much as Europeans, where they have been prevalent for years. Contactless readers have actually been the big sticking point, as many US traders simply haven’t upgraded their equipment. But coronavirus concerns make it likely to develop further in the coming months.

If you’re worried that you might run into a reader that doesn’t accept contactless credit cards, you don’t have to. You can still use your card the old-fashioned way – swiping, diving, or even entering information manually.

Almost all the big ones credit cardstyle = “text-decoration: underline”> issuers offer a kind of contactless credit card, especially for their most popular cards. The most of American ExpressStyle = “text-decoration: underline”> cards are available in contactless forms, for example, and Chase offers 22 contactless card options. It can be a bit hit and miss with smaller card issuers, such as credit unions or small banks.

If you want a tap-to-pay credit card, you can always contact your card issuer to ask if they offer a contactless version of your card. Some of the major card issuers, such as chase awaystyle = “text-decoration: underline”>, even allows you to make this request online.

Contactless credit cards are generally considered to be more secure, both biologically and fraud point of viewstyle = “text-decoration: underline”>. Yet like all technology, they are not foolproof and they introduce new fraud risks that you should be aware of.

The biggest new threat is that someone will physically steal your card. All they have to do to buy something is tap the map. They don’t need to sign anything, and they don’t need to provide ID. Losing your card or having a thief (or, alternatively, a cash-poor teenager in your household) physically steal it for use in person is not as high on the risk scale as other threats, but it does is something to be aware of.

In addition, it is possible for thieves walking nearby to scan your card with a radio frequency ID reader (similar to the one you would use at a cash register to pay) and thus collect your information. But as we’ve discussed before, without your other information – name, zip code, and three-digit code on the back – it’s mostly useless.

Thieves can always get this information in other ways, but they should be more tenacious than your average bear (and they could be). And if they get this other information as well, you are still vulnerable to identity theftstyle = “text-decoration: underline”> if someone is pretending to be you to claim a bogus tax refund or open a credit card in your name, for example.

Rest assured that even if someone commits fraud with your credit card, contactless cards have the same protections as regular cards. Most credit card companies offer fraud liability guarantees as long as you notify them of any fraudulent debit within a reasonable period of time.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to get a contactless credit card. Even if you never use it, at least you have the option.

The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t let your card’s contactless capabilities lull you into a false sense of security. You should always keep an eye on your card so that you can report any unauthorized debit. And if you ever lose your card, it’s even more important to make sure you report it as soon as possible so your issuer can deactivate the card.

But overall, contactless credit cards are likely to follow EMV chipsstyle = “text-decoration: underline”> as the next big credit card technology. In this case, contactless credit cards are literally the wave of the future.


About Nereida Nystrom

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