Contactless payments: are we sacrificing security for convenience?

By Danny Palmer
07 Feb 2014 View Comments

It has been eight years since Chip and PIN was rolled out as a payment method in UK stores, a move which stopped us all having to sign for a newspaper and chocolate bar. It also made debit cards more secure against fraud attempts, forcing criminals to look at other nefarious methods to make a quick buck.

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Now a new method of payment is on the scene: contactless payment. Using a card or smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) technology, users can pay by swiping the card or phone across a reader, similarly to the Oyster Card system on the London Underground.

According to Mark Austin, director of contactless for Visa Europe, consumers have shown an “enthusiastic response” to the technology.

“Contactless transactions increased fourfold in the year to September 2013, with more than £460m spent in the UK on Visa contactless cards, up from £100m in the previous year,” he said. “We now have more than 33 million contactless Visa cards in the UK, with almost 300,000 acceptance points around the country.”

Payments can be made without the need to enter a PIN, speeding up the process of making purchases. But if your phone or card is stolen, what’s to stop the thief using it for their own newspapers and snacks?

“Contactless is an unproven technology. Some think it’s completely safe; I remain to be convinced,” Mark Surguy, partner and fraud expert at law firm Eversheds LLP, told Computing. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I won’t be rushing to be a user.”

But opinion is divided, even within Eversheds itself. Tim Buckingham, partner in the firm’s financial services dispute resolution team, is much more assured about the safety of contactless.

“The banks have spent far too much time investing in contactless to allow it to be a victim of fraud, which will damage its reputation,” he said.

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