May 29, 2014

Why Your Credit Card Company Wants to Replace Magnetic Strips With Microchips

Fraud-deflecting microchip embedded credit cards are on their way to your wallet in October 2015. But, according to Visa and MasterCard, that’s not soon enough.

With mass credit card hacking nearing epidemic levels -- as evidenced by the recent eBay, Michael’s, Target and Neiman Marcus breaches -- next year’s October deadline for all U.S. merchants to switch to “chip-and-PIN” credit card systems could be too late.


Related: Tips for Keeping Your Travels Identity Theft Free

Once D-Day arrives 17 months from now, credit cards with magnetic strips on the back will be phased out. Swiping your credit card will be a thing of the past. Instead, all credit cards will be equipped with metallic squares on the front containing EMV (short for Europay, MasterCard, Visa) microchips.

You will insert your chipped cards into the slot of a special card reading point-of-sale terminal. The device will read your card’s microchip. If you have a PIN number for your card (some card issuers will offer this smart option), you’ll need to enter it. Either way, you’ll still reportedly have to sign for your purchase before your transaction is complete.

The EMV chips are designed to protect users from fraud and counterfeiting, supposedly significantly better than magnetic strips ever could. They turn cardholder data into a one-time, one-of-a-kind encrypted digital signature that proponents of the technology claim is incredibly difficult to copy or duplicate. (That is at least until thieves figure out how to hack those, too, which is pretty much inevitable, being that nothing is hacker-proof any more.)

Related: Don't Get Hacked -- Tools to Fight Cyber Attacks

Microchipped cards also store considerably more information about cardholders than magnetic strips. Some worry this will leave them especially vulnerable to identity thieves equipped with scanners that could snoop the personal data contained within them.

The cost of new cash registers and training necessary to upgrade to EMV chip card payment acceptance systems have given most U.S. retailers cold feet thus far, along with years and years of hairy disputes over how processing the new technology will generally work.

Kim Lachance Shandrowmerchants, issuers and processors bicker here in the States, 80-plus countries around the world have already embraced chipKim Lachance Shandrow-and-PIN credit cards, including most in Western Europe, along with our neighbors in Mexico and Canada.  

Related: Target's Security Breach Stresses Need for Better Cyber Security

So far, a few American credit unions and large banks, including Bank of America, Citibank andJPMorgan Chase, have beat the looming 2015 deadline, already rolling out microchipped cards and encouraging customers to upgrade to them for free.

Target -- which, forgive the ironic pun here, was the target of a data breach last December that exposed the names, phone numbers, and mailing and email addresses of up to approximately 110 million individuals -- is poised to be the first major U.S. retailer to issue its own branded EMV-chipped cards, the Associated Press also reports.

The Minneapolis-headquartered company's $100 million initiative is scheduled to bring microchip credit card terminals to some of its 1,789 stores in the U.S. as early as this September.

For those whose personal, private and “confidential” information was compromised in the massive Target hack, myself included, chipped cards can’t reach critical mass soon enough. And, yes, please sign me up for a PIN number, too.   


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