“Dip, don’t swipe.” New credit cards are being issued that have built-in microchip technology that scrambles transaction data each time the card is used. This differs from the information that is stored on magnetic stripes on the back of your current card, which does not change. With the chip card (sometimes called an EMV card, for Europay, MasterCard and Visa), the possibility for misuse is greatly reduced.
Card companies were supposed to have these cards to all of us by now. But there are hundreds of millions of them to issue, so many are still being printed. You can identify your new card by the small, golden-colored rectangle on the front of your card that contains the chip.
With the standard card, you swipe it through an electronic reader that picks up data contained on a magnetic strip on the back. The chip card is “dipped,” as they say, or inserted into the end of a reader. Reading that card’s data takes a second or two, and I recently overheard a clerk at a store grouse that it is slowing her transaction speed! That may be, but it appears to be the price for bolstering security. For the time being, these cards will co-exist and merchants will be able to accept either.
The new EMV cards will base their security on the chip plus your signature. An enhanced version, which uses the chip and a PIN, is safer still. That’s because, in addition to using that data-scrambling chip technology, it also requires a PIN that only the cardholder knows. This security measure is coming on a little slower because it costs more money to equip merchants with accurate card readers. Among early adopters of the chip and PIN –the “Bad Boys of Christmas, 2013” – Target Stores – with its RED in-store card.
Other security measures that you can take include something as simple as keeping an eye on your card. Having it in sight cuts the risk that a dishonest clerk will copy the card’s data, a practice known as “skimming.”
Also, do NOT give out your credit card data over the phone, unless you initiated the call. And if you’re purchasing online, at check-out, look for the letters “https” that should appear in the upper left corner at the top address line of the payment page (replacing “http.”). HTTPS signifies that your transaction is being encrypted. You also can look for a small padlock, or an insignia for VeriSign, at the bottom of the payment page as indicators that extra security measures are being taken.
And when your bill arrives, Citi Cards says it’s good to go over it to check against receipts (and yes, you need to save your receipts). Mistakes happen and fraud happens. A few years back, I spotted an airline ticket from Venezuela to Italy on my credit card statement. There were no other weirdo charges on the bill – just that. Was it an honest error or a theft attempt? It didn’t matter to me; I just called the card company and we scrubbed that debt right off my bill.
Enjoy the holiday shopping season, online or in the actual stores, but please be careful: That little piece of plastic is convenient, and by following these simple suggestions, it can also give you peace of mind!