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-and-sign” 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:
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THESE CARDS?
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.