I was on the phone with a customer service representative at Bank of America asking about one of their Visa cards with an EMV chip. I knew I was going to Germany in January, and I wanted to have the proper cards for when I went. Sadly, the conversation wasn't encouraging. "Those aren't available in the United States," the representative said.
"You mean I can't get a card with a chip from anyone?" I asked. "No," she said, "you can't use those in the U.S." While the representative was talking, I was looking at images of Visa cards from her bank, with EMV chips clearly shown. I thanked the representative for her help and hung up.
Next I called American Express. "We aren't offering cards with chips in the U.S. yet," the customer service representative told me. I looked at the Amex card in my hand where I'd found the toll-free number that I was calling. I turned it over to reveal the EMV chip embedded in it already. "So if I have an American Express card with a chip, can I get a PIN number for it?" I asked. "No," he said, "we don't offer those in the United States."
If anything helped explain the seemingly confused state of the EMV chip conversion in the U.S., this lack of up-to-date information on the part of the folks who issue credit cards certainly explained at least some of it. But clearly, it didn't really explain everything.
If things were that far behind in the U.S., why was it that I've been able to make purchases at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club using cards with EMV chips and PINs for months now?
The problem, I decided, must be that the customer service staffs at some financial institutions were out of touch. Unfortunately, this isn't very helpful if you're trying to use a more secure credit card technology or if you're a business trying to make sure that you use the most secure technology available. There's nothing quite as frustrating as calling your credit card issuer and being told that you can't accept payments the way you want.
Fortunately, the cluelessness isn't everywhere. When I called representatives at these companies who actually deal with the transition to secure payments, it became apparent that there is significant progress. Unfortunately, the progress is somewhat uneven, and worse, it's not clearly understood within the organizations that are actually deploying the technology.
MasterCard, for example, is putting forth a major public relations effort trying to get the word out. It's time to get ready for the Liability Shift, MasterCard says, which is coming in October. But MasterCard isn't being all that specific on what this exactly means. So in case you're wondering, here's what it all boils down to.
As of Oct. 1, 2015, merchants could be on the hook if someone pays for a purchase using a bogus credit card if you don't have the ability to use EMV chip credit cards. If you do have an EMV-capable credit card reader and the card presented to you passes muster with your bank, then the bank will continue to accept the liability if the card is counterfeit, stolen, etc.