No longer is protecting your money as easy as keeping an eye on your wallet. From keylogging software to skimmers on gas pumps, hackers have all sorts of high-tech tricks for stealing your card data.
Card issuers aren’t giving up, though. In fact, they’re rolling out technologies of their own to cut down on hacking and theft. Although some of them aren’t yet available in the American market, they may be soon.
Three types of high-tech credit and debit cards are gaining steam. Here’s how they work — and when you might see them in the real world:
- Contactless Cards
If you’ve been abroad within the past few years, or if you live in a major U.S. city, you may have already heard about contactless cards. Several banks are testing contactless cards in the American market, while countries like Canada and Australia have been using the system for years.
Contactless cards work by transmitting information when tapped against a card reader — no need to insert a chip or swipe the magnetic strip. These cards are designed to release certain information only once. That way, if a thief came near your card with a reader, he or she wouldn’t be able to use the information obtained in a later transaction.
One reason other than security to get a contactless card? Checkout speed. Imagine how much quicker the process would be if you only needed to tap your card, rather than inserting your chip and waiting for the computer to read it. Contactless cards take an average of 15 seconds to complete a transaction — twice as fast as the typical 30 seconds that chipped cards require.
- Biometric Cards
You can unlock your phone with a fingerprint. Your home’s smart speaker uses voice activation. If you work in a high-security facility, you may need to scan your iris to get in the door.
Payment networks like VISA and Mastercard are experimenting with a similar system for credit and debit cards: biometric authentication. Biometric cards do away with the use of a personal identification number or password, which can often be guessed or changed by hackers.
At present, fingerprint scanning seems to be the biometric authentication method most likely to be adopted by card companies. A few key issues, however, threaten to hold it back.
Biometric cards may cost upward of $20 each, compared to about $1 for the typical chipped card. If implemented, card companies may pass the cost of biometric cards on to consumers, merchants, or a combination of the two.
At certain vendors, like sit-down restaurants, biometric cards may also pose practical challenges. Validation requires that the cardholder, rather than the server, is in physical contact with the card. One proposal is to use mobile readers to let restaurant employees complete the transaction at each diner’s table.
With that said, many merchants may prefer biometric cards to other high-tech authentication systems. The reason? Most current U.S. card readers would be able to accept them with no hardware updates.
- All-in-One Payment Solutions
If you’ve used Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, you’re already familiar with the all-in-one model. Now, some issuers want to transfer this technology to physical cards.
One that’s in the works is Wallet Card, which promises to hold several credit, debit, and loyalty cards. The Wallet Card would have a self-charging battery and a digital display so you can choose between cards. Plus, it could be used anywhere regular cards are swiped, tapped, or inserted.
Most intriguing about the Wallet Card, however, are the security features it would include. For example, the card is designed to automatically delete and replace any compromised card numbers. Moreover, the card would come with a built-in cellular chip to notify the owner if any suspicious activity occurs with his card numbers. And if a Wallet Card is stolen, the company claims that it can be replaced in hours.
The Wallet Card isn’t available yet, and similar attempts at single-card services have failed. However, because the concept mirrors accepted app-based payment models, it may catch on.
Staying Safe Today
While you wait for these solutions, it’s important to remember that credit and debit card companies have a lot of other tools for keeping your money safe. Take advantage of them:
- Fraud alerts
Start by signing up to receive alerts about suspicious activity on your smartphone. Card issuers use algorithms to identify unusual activity, which can indicate someone has stolen your card data.
Why can’t you just wait for your card company to call you? You can, but beware that more purchases might be made in your name while you wait. With smartphone alerts, if a transaction is fraudulent, you can lock your card or request a replacement right from your phone.
- Number generators
You never know who has access to the data you enter online. Your favorite retailer’s payment database may have been broken into. A rogue employee may be copying card numbers.
A lot of credit and debit card issuers let cardmembers generate temporary card numbers to use online. These numbers become invalid shortly after use, limiting the damage in case they’re stolen.
- Zero-liability policies
These days, most credit and debit cards are backed by zero-liability fraud protection. That way, even if all of the other safeguards associated with your card fail to stop a thief, you aren’t responsible for any transactions you didn’t make.
Finally, if your financial institution is already offering a more secure card, don’t be afraid to ask for one. Even if every vendor doesn’t accept contactless cards, for example, there’s no reason you shouldn’t opt to use one where you can.
However harmless a swipe might seem, thieves have ways of getting access to your financial data. Don’t take the risk. Embrace the security features your card comes with today, and keep an eye out as these futuristic cards come to the U.S. market. You work hard for your money; you deserve a card that works just as hard to protect it.