If you shop at Target (TGT) or Neiman Marcus, and if you dine at P.F. Changs you may know first hand the pain of having your credit card information compromised. Those are just three of the most recent high-profile companies to be at the center of information breaches. While they try to re-secure their systems the credit card industry is trying to do their part as well, namely with new cards equipped with microchips that are billed as more secure than that good old magnetic strip.
So how is the chip actually different? Right now when you swipe your card your information is sent from the credit card machine to a computer in the store you are buying from and then to the card company. Should a hacker or fraudster get that information anywhere throughout that system it is enough for them to create a fake card or use online over and over again until you shut down the card.
A chip card on the other hand generates new information for each transaction so that a fraudster who gained your card info when you bought a sweater at Old Navy could not use that information for any other transactions there or in any other store.
Sounds great, and it certainly solves one of many problems with credit card fraud. Still, as Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president of product at MasterCard (MA) admits in the video above, there is no silver bullet.
Chip cards offer you no more security online than a magnetic strip card does. Even the cards themselves aren't completely fraud proof. After the Target breach last year security journalist Brian Krebs told NPR the chip cards "simply raises the costs for the bad guys...It's not that they can't break the system — but it makes it more expensive for them to fabricate these cards." Regardless, you'll soon be seeing a lot more chip cards across the U.S.
If you've traveled internationally you may have noticed that the magnetic stripe that is so ubiquitous on American cards is seldom used. Card companies, banks and credit unions there have already made the switch.
"It's not a short process," Balfany says. "What people don't know is that the industry has been working together for about two years to start to affect the migration. And so banks are beginning to issue cards to consumers across the U.S. and retailers are beginning to change out the terminals."
The big goal for all parties involved is to have much of the new technology in place by October of 2015. Such a move would certainly serve the consumer well, but card companies, banks, and credit unions aren't making the shift out of the goodness of their hearts. October 2015 is the date that new liability rules go into effect when it comes to fraud.
Right now fraud liability is investigated by the likes of MasterCard and Visa. They aim to discover who is at most at fault and that party shoulders the financial burden. Under the new rules the liability will fall to whomever has the least up-to-date technology. It's therefore in the best interests of banks, credit unions, retailers and card companies to get the newest and most secure cards into your wallet.
Balfany says that by 2015 50-60% of the cards in the U.S. and the credit card terminals in stores will be transitioned. You'll still be able to swipe that magnetic strip for years to come as the industry can't possibly jump to 100% acceptance overnight, but many large retailers are ready and many more expect to be by October of 2015.