Six Things to Know About Chip Cards as You Shop for the Holidays

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Friday, December 18th, 2015

This is the first holiday shopping season when many American shoppers will use their upgraded chip debit and credit cards. The chip cards are designed to help cut down on fraud, yet they aren’t foolproof. As some consumers are still learning how to use their new chip cards, or are checking to see if a store has a chip reading terminal, you might expect some delays at check-out lines.

“It’s an important holiday season for us and the industry,” said Jimm Bell, senior vice president and director of card services for Fifth Third Bank. “We’ll have more chip cards than ever before, and it will be a good time to check how we’re all doing.”

Here are six things to know before you shop:

Will every retailer have a chip reader?

The transition to chip cards and readers isn’t an overnight switch. Banks in the U.S. have been replacing debit and credit cards with chip-enabled cards this year, and are continuing to do so into the new year. Retailers are adding chip card terminals to their check -out lines, but the process won’t be complete by the end of the year. So if you have a chip card, but the retailer doesn’t have a terminal that accepts chip cards, you still can swipe your card with the magnetic stripe. And if you don’t have a chip card yet but the store has a chip enabled terminal, don’t worry, you can still swipe your card with a magnetic stripe at new chip card readers.

Why does the process take longer?

With the chip, most consumers won’t swipe their cards, but insert them into card readers, with the chip and face of the card facing forward. A notice on the screen will alert the customer to wait for the transaction to finish before they can remove their card. It can take a little longer, in part because of the process, but also because many consumers are using chip cards for the first time and rely on store clerks to explain the process.

Do I need to look out for anything?

Consumers need to make sure they don’t forget their cards at the check-out counter. Unlike the magnetic strip cards, in which consumers never have to let go, chip cards are inserted into the reader for a certain period of time. “We want to remind customers to remove their card from the terminal at the end of the transaction,” Bell said.

Will it be safer?

Chip cards offer advanced security for in-store purchases by making every transaction unique, which makes it more difficult to counterfeit or copy. If the card data and one-time code are stolen, that information cannot be used to commit fraud or create counterfeit cards.

Consumers with chip cards are responsible for the same amount as they were with magnetic stripe cards. Credit card holders are responsible for a maximum of $50 in fraudulent charges. That stays the same with the new chip cards. With debit cards, the amount depends on how quickly you alert your bank.

However, merchants who haven’t upgraded card readers to take the new chip cards, could be responsible for fraud loss if they accept transactions on chip cards that could have been processed as chips.

What else can I do to prevent fraud?

As consumers use their credit or debit cards more frequently during the holiday season, they need to keep a close eye on all purchases to ensure they are valid. One way to check is to set up text alerts from your bank to show transactions, withdraws or balances, Bell says. Fifth Third’s banking app makes it easy to set up alerts.

“Text alerts are a quick way to help you keep track of your holiday spending,” Bell said. “It’s a good reminder to help you stick to a budget.”