Credit Card Firms Endanger Customer Privacy With Outdated Technology

NEWS ANALYSIS: The EMV credit card chip is important for keeping credit card account information safe from criminals, but some card issuers won't provide the protection.

security worries

You'd think that the solution to protecting your credit card information would be fairly easy. After all, EMV chip technology has been around for years, and most credit card issuers say it's available to customers. Outside the United States, this technology is widely used, to the point that it's frequently difficult to make a purchase without the chip embedded in your credit card. Had Target been using this technology, the massive data breach that affected 40 million credit and debit card accounts would never have happened.

Of course, there are two parts to this issue. One is for the store to allow the use of EMV-equipped cards, and the other is to get those cards into the hands of customers. The card readers for EMV-equipped cards are installed in Walmart stores I visited while I was preparing this story. A number of other merchants in the Washington, D.C., area that I visited had the proper card readers for handling EMV-equipped cards, but again, it was unclear whether they had the proper software in place to handle them.

By contrast, Walmart reportedly has implemented the acceptance of EMV-enabled cards in all its U.S. stores, where the retailer can accept both chip-and-signature and chip-and-PIN cards. Walmart point-of-sale (POS) terminals will prompt customers with a chip-equipped card to use the chip reader instead of the mag stripe reader. Clearly, if enough Walmart customers were using the right type of credit card, a major breach such as what happened at Target simply would not have happened.

Actually, getting a credit card with the embedded chip may be as easy as making a phone call, or it may be impossible, depending on who your credit card issuer is. If you're an American Express customer, for example, all it takes is a phone call to the company's customer service line, and you'll have a new card with an embedded chip in a day or two. When I called American Express, the agent offered to dispatch one overnight to my house.

A Capital One spokesperson told eWEEK in a Dec. 27 email: "We currently don't offer this technology." What's more, the spokesperson said that the bank has no plans to offer this more secure credit card in the future.

However, another Capital One spokesperson contacted eWEEK on Dec. 30 to say that this statement was incorrect. This spokesperson said the bank does plan to offer EMV chips to its credit card customers within the next year, according to the new spokesperson.

This isn't for lack of interest on the part of Capital One customers. One customer service agent for the bank told me early in the day on Dec. 26 that he'd already had four calls prior to mine asking for the EMV chip on their credit cards.

I called other credit card issuers looking for EMV chips. USAA and FIA Card Services offered to send out MasterCard cards with embedded chips immediately. Bank of America said they would provide cards with chips to some of their Visa cards customers, but not to all of them. I got the same answer from Chase, which offers chips on some Visa cards but not others. Some proprietary credit cards, such as the Sears Master Card, also don't offer cards with EMV chips.

The bottom line is that credit card users can get the more secure EMV-equipped cards if they want them, but those customers have to know where to call because not all card issuers offer them. Adding to the confusion, some card issuers only offer the more secure card to some, but not all, their customers. And, of course, some credit card issuers, including some major banks, don't and do not plan to do so.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...