By Ken Sweet
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) A big change is happening inside your wallet.
U.S. banks, tired of spending billions each year to pay back fleeced consumers, are in the process of replacing tens of millions of old magnetic strip credit and debit cards with new cards that are equipped with computer chips that store account data more securely.
By autumn, millions of Americans will have made the switch from the old magnetic strip cards. That 50-year-old technology, replaced in most of world, lingers on the back of U.S. cards and is easily copied by thieves, leaving people vulnerable to fraud. Roughly half of all credit card fraud happens in the U.S. even though the country only makes up roughly 25 percent of all credit card transactions, according to a report by Barclays put out last week.
This entire switch is a massive undertaking. Roughly half of all U.S. credit and debit cards will be replaced by the end of the year. Tens of thousands of individual merchants need to upgrade their equipment to allow for chip transactions instead of “swipe-and-sign” ones. If the stores aren’t ready, they could be on the hook to cover the cost of fraud.
Here’s how the new cards work and how the switch could affect you at the checkout counter:
The biggest difference between your old card and your new one is the metal chip embedded on the front, which means your personal data is much safer. The chip assigns a unique code for every transaction made on your card. Even if a thief acquired that code, it couldn’t be used to make another purchase.
Chip cards are also harder to duplicate, although it’s not unheard of. Overall, the chip cards are more secure than magnetic cards, which are vulnerable because once thieves get a copy of your credit card information, it can be quickly copied onto counterfeit cards.
Chip cards have been common in Europe for more than decade, and they’ve been standard in other parts of the world for some time.
“The chip technology is designed to prevent copying of the card,” says Ellen Richey, vice chairman of risk and public policy at Visa.
In the U.S, chips-embedded cards have seen limited use until now. Laundromats, for instance, are one place chip-reading cards are being used.
When will i get one?
At this point, the majority of magnetic-stripe credit cards have been replaced with chip cards. Banks are in the middle of issuing chip-based debit cards, with Bank of America starting late last year and Chase and Citi starting this summer. Regional and smaller banks are also rolling out these cards to their customers, most of them starting later this year.
All chip cards also come with a magnetic strip in case chip readers aren’t available. However, if a merchant does accept chip cards for purchases, you should use that option every time because it’s more secure.
Who’s behind the change?
The change is mostly coming from banks and payment processing companies — Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Banks have wanted a more secure form of payment because they have generally been on the hook for any fraud that happens on their cards. Originally the banks were relying on their own software and data from the payment networks to catch fraud at the point of sale in the U.S., but it became clear something more was needed, Richey said. Banks, particularly small banks, would often pay out of pocket to cover any fraud that happened on their customers’ payment cards. The American Bankers Association estimated that bank account fraud cost the industry $1.74 billion in 2012.