Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Dubious About Going Contactless this Christmas

With less than three weeks left in the 2006 holiday shopping season, consumers are making their way to their favorite retailers—many with credit cards in hand.

Unsurprisingly, some card associations and issuing banks are using promotions to boost the volume of plastic transactions this holiday season. More specifically, some are pushing to increase the usage of their contactless products.

For example, I recently received a promotion from Chase and MasterCard International promising me a 15% credit on my next credit-card statement. All I have to do is make three or more purchases using the “Blink” feature on my card.

For those not familiar with the term, “Blink” is MasterCard’s contactless payment program. By housing a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip inside its credit cards, MasterCard enables cardholders to pay for purchases simply by waving the card over a dedicated payment terminal.

Shoppers never let go of their card, and transactions under $25 don’t even require a signature—two very appealing attributes during the hectic holiday shopping season.

Visa USA, American Express and Discover also have similar products enabling them to cashing in on “swipeless” transactions. And all four card associations promise that these RF-enabled products foster speedier, secure transactions because the shopper never hands over her card to the cashier.

While I hate to be a Grinch, I am just not convinced that this payment method is delivering on its security promise.
In a recent blog, I warned retailers to consider what could happen if these contactless vehicles end up in the wrong hands. Now it seems N.Y. Sen. Charles Schumer is also worried.

“These cards may be convenient, but they’re a double-edged sword,” he said in article that appeared in Monday’s edition of the New York City newspaper, AM New York.

The article described how scam artists are using digital eavesdropping devices to electronically steal unsuspecting cardholders’ names, account numbers and other personal data. “Thieves use the technology to steal your identity and credit number and go on a shopping spree at your expense,” he reported in the article.

While we all welcome the chance to speed up the checkout experience, just remain cautious. Here is my holiday wish: don’t sacrifice security for speed during checkout. Savvy thieves are proving that nothing is foolproof this holiday season.

—Deena M. Amato-McCoy