Even if cash isn't contagious, contactless is safe and secure

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Contactless payments are seeing a surge in usage. But what are contactless payments?

They're often referred to as “tap and go,” but there is actually no required contact for this payment mechanism. Simply hover a compatible card or smartphone payment option, like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, close to the card reader until it acknowledges payment, often with an accompanying beep.

Due to safety and cleanliness concerns, more than half of Americans are now using contactless payments; we’re a bit behind the rest of the world, where usage already rose to 79%, according to a recent Mastercard poll. Credit card networks, such as Mastercard and Visa, are also bolstering consumer preference for contactless payments by increasing spending limits in several markets to allow larger transaction sizes.

Pre-coronavirus, when I was still regularly traveling on planes, I was amazed at the wide range of adoption around the world. For some areas, like the U.K., contactless payments had already become a common substitute for swiping, while many in the U.S., myself included, struggled to figure out where they could use it and just how to do it.

Now, the rapid uptick in usage has left many consumers wondering how protected they are – not just from bacteria exposure, but from fraud.

Contactless is just as secure as other payment methods. While there have been reports of an increasing amount of fraud via this transaction method, it is not from a lack of security features. Bad actors follow the money. If consumers start spending in one channel or payment method over another, fraudsters follow suit with new ways to obtain illicit funds.

However, banks have their customers covered. Financial institutions won’t hold them liable if unauthorized transactions are promptly reported. Additionally, there are a number of other safety measures in place:

In order for a chip signal to be read, a card reader must be within centimeters of it. Consumers often cite concerns over what the industry calls a “proximity intercept" where a fraudster grabs a card’s signal using their own device when near an unsuspecting victim.

This scenario is unlikely, as the card must be only centimeters away from the criminal’s reader and not be obstructed by any metal object. This is even more improbable in the current environment since most of us are wearing masks and staying at least six feet away from each other.

The information fraudsters can steal is limited. Many consumers don’t realize fraudsters need more than their credit card number to commit fraud. If a fraudster did collect card information, it would be limited to the card number and expiration date, all of which are available by glancing at the card itself. The most sensitive information is never transmitted.

There are limits on contactless payment usage. Issuers can limit the number of transactions that can be fulfilled before they require the card to be inserted into the terminal for verification. Additionally, there are generally spending limits on contactless transactions which further inhibit fraud on contactless payments.

Contactless payments on mobile devices require user verification. Unlocking the phone and confirming one’s identity either by entering a PIN or use of biometric verification, whether that be through a thumb print or facial recognition, is a prerequisite for payment access.

Even though some organizations are now saying they don’t believe cash is a major culprit behind the spread of COVID-19 , those that are taking extra precautions can rest assured that they can continue to use contactless payments, while benefiting from the added fraud protection it presents.

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