On a recent trip motoring through Greece, we pulled into a service station and gassed up. I handed the clerk my credit card.
“PIN?” he asked.
“No, no PIN.”
This conversation wasn’t moving much. But he understood the situation enough and was able process the payment using just the chip embedded in my US-issued credit card.
To combat fraud, European credit card issuers have opted for a two-stage security process. In addition to sticking a microchip in the card that is read when it is scanned, the cardholder also needs to have a PIN. He or she enters it when the transaction takes place.
If that card is lost or stolen, the new possessor is likely out of luck without that PIN. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the Americans haven’t adopted this measure, since they just spent billions of dollars to issue new cards nationwide that carried the chip. Couldn’t they have added the PIN feature at the same time? Debit cards use them, so why not credit cards?
Unless we all move to Europe, though, we’ll have to make do with the cards currently in our wallets. They’re getting safer year by year, but trouble seems to lurk around every corner where billions of financial transactions are concerned.
If you’re buying online with a credit card, look for an “S” to be tacked onto the “HTTP” in the web address line. This stands for “secure,” and indicates that the merchant is scrambling communications between its website and your browser. That should keep the bad guys at bay. (HTTP, btw, means Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, which is the protocol over which data is sent).
Most merchants these days also will ask for your CSC – card security code. This is a three-digit numbers group that is separate from your account number. Thanks to these transactions taking place at the speed of light, the merchant is transmitting your data to the card issuer and instantaneously halts the purchase should those numbers not match.
Of course, anyone who holds your card and isn’t blind also knows that CSC (thus, the PIN is to my way of thinking a better idea).
Now, if you’re at a restaurant or department store and use your card, you’re going to get a receipt to sign. Bank of America advises that if you see any blank lines on that receipt, draw a line through it to make sure no one can come in after you and pencil in some fresh numbers.
If you have a choice between a credit and debit transaction with the same bank card, experts say you should choose credit. There are stringer fraud protections with credit cards. And if something bad does happen, a credit card liability is capped at $50. With a debit card it’s $500, or in some cases more.
Plus, bear in mind that your debit card is linked to your bank account. Not so with a credit card.
Have a merry, safe shopping, holiday season.
This article was written by:
Mr. Dinnen served as Sr. Business Reporter for the Des Moines Register, Business News Editor for the Indianapolis Star and served as Editor (freelance) for the Christian Science Monitor of its weekly personal finance column
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