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Credit Card Security: Chipped Cards. Are You Safer?

By Allie Seligman on January 27th, 2016

You’ve likely added a chip-enabled credit card or two to your wallet in the past few months. Many industry experts say EMV cards are safer, but that doesn’t mean Americans are immune to fraud.

As major credit companies continue to roll out the cards —an unofficial deadline of last October long passed — the FBI issued a warning: That shiny chip doesn’t completely stop thieves in their tracks.

“While (the new) cards offer enhanced security, the FBI is warning law enforcement, merchants, and the general public that these cards can still be targeted by fraudsters,” the agency said in the release.

The chip-enabled cards rely, in part, on a system adopted by European countries years ago. The card issues a unique code for each transaction, which helps authenticate your purchases. In contrast, “swipe” cards store your payment data in their magnetic strips — an easy target for thieves who can easily steal the information contained in the strip and transfer it to a fake.

Still, the “dip” cards issuers began rolling out last fall are missing a key component that has made the switch a success in Europe: PIN numbers.

Merchants and banks use a two-pronged approach to keep consumers secure: the chip produces a unique code, and the card carrier inputs a PIN number for each transaction.

Without the PIN, industry leaders argue the United States forfeits that second level of protection.

The U.S. has instead adopted so-called “dip and signature” cards, meaning retailers should verify the signature on the back of the card with each purchase. That may be wishful thinking. In the real world, a thief carrying a stolen card could likely get away with a phony purchase. Signature-only cards also leave consumers just as vulnerable to online, phone and mail purchases.

Fraudsters have caught on. “Cyber criminals understand now that stealing from chip and PIN is harder,” said Brian Dodge, a spokesperson with the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “The U.S. is still less secure than the rest of the world. They are going to focus on the country that has the weakest technology.”

Read on for ways to keep your cards — swipe and dip — safe.

  • Don’t carry all your credit cards. In the case of a lost wallet or stolen purse, you have fewer cards to worry about. Carry only the plastic you need with you.
  • Watch for signs of skimming: Give ATMs and point-of-sale terminals a once over before swiping your card or entering a PIN number. Check for glue, scuff marks or any other signs the machine has been tampered with.
  • When possible, keep your card within sight during a transaction.
  • Check your bank account at home. Thieves can more easily access your personal information on an open wireless network. Don’t rely on the wifi at a coffee shop or other public safe for logging into sites that hold financial information.
  • Do not sign a blank receipt. Draw a line or write a zero in any blank spaces.
  • Regularly review your credit card statement for bogus charges. Immediately report any transactions you did not authorize.
  • Be wary of unsolicited contact. Treat texts, emails or calls from your bank or card issuers with caution: they could be an attempt at hacking into your account. Contact customer service directly using the number found on the back of your card or the company’s website.
  • Keep note of any recurring charges and verify them on your card statement.
  • Report a lost or stolen card missing as soon as possible.