Most Americans can successfully play the “six degrees of separation” game when it comes to knowing someone whose credit card was hacked in the last couple of years. In fact, stolen Target cards in 2013 alone accounted for $53.7 million in income for hackers. Although many folks remember the Target breach, few people remember that 20 other major data breaches occurred in 2014. The reason, is at least in part, is due to the lackluster security technology in our existing credit cards.
The traditional magnetic stripe cards require only a signature for security purposes, and any security system built around low paid retail employees checking signature verification is destined to fail. Who hasn’t sent a friend or relative off with a credit card to buy gas or to purchase groceries where no one questioned the difference in signature on the back of the card and the signature on the terminal or receipt?
Thankfully, there is a more secure form of credit card. Chip Cards, known as EMV or “smart cards”, add another layer of fraud protection through an embedded microchip that turns card member information into unique codes that is difficult to replicate. Plus, if your card is stolen, thieves cannot use EMV data to create usable counterfeit payment cards.
EMV enabled cards, have been around for about ten years in about 80 countries worldwide, but are only recently being adopted by the US, due to legislation that forces merchants to accept them by October 1, 2015. Currently, about 10-15 million chip credit cards already have been issued to U.S. consumers. Additionally, about one million out of more than 10 million POS (Point of Sale) terminals have already made the transition, and as merchants renew with their existing provider or pick a new credit card processor, they are adding the capability.
What Can You Do Now?
1. Find Out If Your Card Is Available in EMV Format: Check out this page at EMV Connection, which shows an up-to-date list of EMV issuers and the availability of EMV cards in the U.S. You can use this list to know what to ask for when you call your credit card company for a replacement card. Or, you can learn more about the card you may already have in hand. In fact, if you received a new credit card from your issuer sometime in the past year, you may already have experienced the technology without realizing it.
2. Request a Free EMV Enabled Card: Will you need to pay for these chip cards? Not if you already own a credit card. All you need to do is call your card issuer or go online to that issuer’s website and request an EMV card. Although banks have been rolling EMV cards out as renewal card replacements, you may need to ask your issuer specifically for that EMV card if you are traveling soon. Most credit card companies won’t issue a card at any time other than renewal unless you ask.
3. Start Using It Wherever Possible: Most new cards issued will contain both the stripe and the chip. So, if you’re standing at a credit card terminal and you aren’t sure what to do, just enter the card in the card slot. If the EMV terminal isn’t ready for your card yet, the machine will show an error and you’ll be prompted to swipe it. If you try to swipe a chip card in an EMV-activated terminal, the same thing will occur – an error message and a prompt to insert the card differently so the machine will read the chip.
4. Memorize Your PIN: Unmanned terminals at automated kiosks may now ask for a PIN number with EMV cards. This is when you DO need to worry. In the past, card holders didn’t need to memorize their PINs, and now they do. Don’t carry a list of PINs around with you, either, because the risk of that EMV card and your PIN list being stolen is just as high as it’s ever been.
Trading out your old magnetic stripe credit card for a chip enabled credit card provides you with a more secure, but equally convenient, way to pay for your transactions. Additionally, remember, that you should use the chip on your card whenever possible, you shouldn’t carry a PIN list around with you, and you should shred your old cards. Taking these simple measures can go a long way to minimizing the risk of credit card and identity theft.
Rich McIver regularly writes about consumer protection and advocacy as it relates to the credit card processing industry. He is the founder of MerchantNegotiators.com, and can be reached via Twitter or Facebook.