My earlier post on “chip and PIN” credit cards got a fair bit of reaction. As you may (or may not) recall I said then…
A chip-and-PIN card, as the name suggests, has a computer chip embedded in it and on that chip is a PIN (personal identification number). For the card to be used, the user must punch in his or her PIN. One result is that a stolen or lost card is useless to a crook because he won’t know your PIN…. These highly secure cards are the norm in most of Europe and in neighboring Canada. But in the United States?
The United States, which likes to fancy itself the world leader in high-tech, is woefully behind the curve in this area. Why? The credit card companies will tell you it’s because consumers don’t want them. Baloney! They just don’t want to spend the money.
The response to the post was gratifying. For starters, I was interviewed by Rudy “The Savvy Traveler” Maxa on his weekly radio program.
You can listen to the show, which has been archived as a podcast, here:
Rudy and I had some fun with the topic. Playing devil’s advocate, Rudy suggested that the banks weren’t implementing chip-and-PIN technology because of the immense cost of making the transition to the new technology, to which I replied, “Yeah, that’s why we all write with pencil and paper, because switching to computers would cost so much.”
I also received some terrific input from readers, one of whom suggested…
You missed an obvious gateway to get the credit card companies in the US to include “chip and pin” in our cards.
That is the Congress !
Of course, we’ll probably have to educate the dummies about it, but with just a few requests, most Members become acquainted with a problem, just to learn “what’s all the fuss about”. Also, many of them travel abroad regularly, so they may be thus incentivized.
An excellent idea. So write your Congresscritter. Of course, if my elected representatives ever paid any attention to words of wisdom I’ve sent them, the world would look a lot different than it actually does. Still, it’s worth a shot.
The comment prompted me to dig a little deeper and I learned about the Durbin Amendment
The Durbin Amendment, a last-minute addition to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, has sparked fierce debate about government regulation, consumer choice, innovation and entrepreneurship. The bill drastically lowers swipe fees – the fee charged to merchants every time a customer pays with plastic – on debit cards issued by big banks, cutting into the banks’ revenue while, presumably, lowering costs for merchants and therefore consumers.
In other words, the banks behind the major credit cards have an excellent reason to stonewall on chip-and-PIN – they make a bundle on those swipe fees, which are justified, supposedly, because of the high cost of fraud. Take away the fraud, take away the banks’ free lunch.
The same reader suggested another line of inquiry, which I followed. What I discovered, raised an eyebrow. Get this: Poor folks in Ohio and Wyoming are issued cards with chip-and-PIN technology that facilitate access to their food stamp benefits.
Wow! A poor person in Wyoming, one of Mitt Romney’s fabled 47 percent, can have access to chip-and-PIN security, but proud holders of an American Express Platinum Card can’t? No wonder Romney, who I dare say has a fistful of Amex cards in his wallet, doesn’t like these people.
Which brings me to another point. In that earlier post, I mentioned that the folks who staff the concierge line for Amex Platinum card holders (and they are uniformly terrific) told me that come November 21, I could request a chip-and-PIN card.
When I got around to doing that, I was told, oh no, I could get something called a “signature and PIN” card but that Amex isn’t ready to roll out chip-and-PIN. Something about working out the bugs. Never mind that these cards are standard in Canada and Mexico.
I envisioned myself leafing through an Italian phrase book looking for “I know it’s not a bloody chip-and-PIN card, but it’s almost as good. They told me so at American Express.”
Just to make sure, I called Amex again just before posting this and was once again told that “signature and PIN” was the best I could hope for. This time I escalated the call to the supervisor level and learned that the reason they offer the technology in Canada is that it is mandated.
“So I won’t have access to the technology until the government forces you to provide it?”
“Not necessarily. We are always listening to feedback and we’ve heard this a lot.” (I’m paraphrasing here.)
So there you have it. Pick up the phone, call your credit card company and say loud and clear, “I want my chip-and-PIN.”
That will certainly help, but it won’t do the trick. It seems screamingly obvious to me that the credit card companies won’t do a thing unless they’re forced to do so (and in the process most likely relinquish their obscene profits from swipe fees). So that brings us back to government.
Travel agents, I believe, have a special role to play in bringing the United States and its credit card companies into the twenty-first century. Educate your clients. And talk to your professional associations – OSSN, ASTA, ARTA, and so forth – and urge their leadership to petition Congress for legislation that will mandate this ultra-secure form of credit card for Americans.