7 Things you should know about your new credit/debit card

It’s called EMV, and it’s a long overdue upgrade.

1. Your new card has a mini computer on it.

EMV Chip Card [Image from Wikimedia Commons]

Yup, behind that shiny new gold or silver-looking square is a microchip keeping your credit card information safe on an secure file system. This technology is identical to the one in the SIM card on your phone. Europe and much of the world has been using EMV or smart card technology for years now to reduce credit card fraud. This technology makes it much more difficult to clone the card for use at in-store terminals or ATMs that use EMV systems.

2. Don’t have a new card? You’ll be getting one.

Given the recent news about security breaches, and drop in fraud that has occurred in other countries when EMV technology is adopted, US banks, credit card companies, and businesses have decided to make the switch. When someone steals your credit card information, you are not responsible for the purchases make with that stolen information…but someone (the merchant, bank, etc) is. On October 1, 2015 the liability for fraudulent purchases made in this way will now be on the party that did not invest in EMV technology. So there is incentive on the part of card issuers to get you a new card before that date.

3. You use your card like this.

Image from Visa.com

4. Your new card still won’t work at some places abroad.

While the US is moving to newer, better technology, it is moving to the less secure version of that more secure system. The card your being issued is most likely a chip-and-signature system, meaning that when you make purchases you verify your identity with your signature. It also means that if your physical card is stolen, purchases can still be made with it. Outside the US, a chip-and-PIN system makes this fraud much more difficult. In fact, Australia has recently banned signatures as a form of verification (although some cards from abroad may still sign). So, for security, some automated terminals, like subway kiosks, won’t accept chip-and-signature cards.

5. Tokenization EMV chips, Apple Pay, and Google Wallet

Mobile payment system in Norway [Image from Wikimedia Commons]

While your new EMV card does produce a code for each transaction, this is not the same as the tokenization systems used by Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Tokenization generates a one-time use code that is sent to the banks by the merchant instead of your credit card number. Unfortunately this means that, even with current EMV cards,  if someone steals your information in the same way the Target information was stolen, it is still possible to make fraudulent purchases online (although duplicating the card  for use in stores is close to impossible).  So, if someone steals that information, they only have a one-time use code that has already been used. Again, both Apple Pay and Google Wallet already use this technology, and in the future it may be come to standard for all purchases online and off.

6. They still have magnetic strips.

So, by now it’s probably clear that EMV technology can help thwart some types of fraud, namely credit card skimming and card cloning. However, your card still has a magnetic strip, so every time you swipe your card it just as vulnerable as any regular credit card. Until all terminals are upgraded you’ll still need to occasionally swipe and be on the lookout for skimmers on ATMs. You will also still vulnerable to online fraud, although using Google Wallet or Apple Pay, as well as future tokenization implementations will help with that.

7. You can probably get one now.

I was able to get new EMV cards for 3 of my 5 accounts just by asking for them, for free. A small local bank I have didn’t offer them yet, and Bank of America wanted to charge a fee. American Express, Charles Schwab, and Chase were all happy to send me new cards



I'm a scientist, traveler and geek who loves being on the move. After spending two years in Europe, I'm back home in Boston.

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