I was standing in line at a Walmart store in Fairfax, Va., when I spied the tell-tale slot in the credit card machine. Under the slot was a stylized image of part of a credit card with a chip. So when it was my turn I slipped one of my credit cards with an EMV (Eurocard MasterCard Visa) chip into the slot and waited.
The pharmacist and a staffer moved over for a look. A series of prompts appeared on the credit card reader's LCD screen, at which point I punched in my PIN. The transaction took a few more seconds, then a receipt came out of the printer. I'd just done something that's all too rare in the U.S., despite the fact that it's common everywhere else in the world. I'd made a purchase using a chip and PIN card.
When I talked to the pharmacist at the register, she told me that only a couple of other customers had attempted to use cards with chips while she was there, but she said that she knew they were starting to appear in Walmart's stores. Part of the reason, she said, was that the company's own branded credit cards were all being replaced by chip and PIN cards.
My search continued. I shopped at several Target stores and two Home Depot stores in the Washington, DC, suburbs. The machines with the slots for accepting EMV cards were usually there. Target, which was hit a year ago by a massive data breach, seems to have replaced all of the card reader machines. But they didn't accept EMV cards—you still have to swipe the card so the machine can read the magnetic stripe.
At Home Depot, which had an even worse data breach, the implementation of secure card readers seems to be only partially complete. I kept looking. The manager of a Safeway grocery store in Fairfax County, Va., had no idea what an EMV card was, for example.
But there were bright spots, as well. I was able to make secure payments using either cards with EMV chips or with Apple Pay at a variety of stores including at the Wegmans grocery chain and at a Subway restaurant.
I was able to buy a healthful and nourishing breakfast at McDonalds securely. I took my quest to Sam's Club in the remote city of Lynchburg, Va., and I was able to buy some Diet Coke and a land line phone using my EMV-equipped credit card.
I also visited a number of small businesses and whenever I had occasion to use a credit card, I would ask about EMV acceptance.