Many debit and credit card users now have the option to “tap to pay” now offered by Visa payWave™, MasterCard Tap & Go™ and Interac Flash™. These cards allow you to quickly pay for some purchases by tapping your card on a secure payment terminal instead of inserting or swiping your card. This article will answer some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the security of tap to pay cards and provide tips on how to protect yourself from debit and credit card fraud.

How are tap to pay cards different from regular debit and credit cards?

With contactless or “tap to pay” cards, a small radio frequency antenna and microchip inside the card allow a transaction to be processed without having to enter a personal identification number (PIN) or sign a receipt. You can pay for purchases, usually of $100 or less, by tapping your card on a merchant’s payment terminal.

Should I be concerned about security of tap to pay cards?

No. Tap to pay card transactions are processed through the same secure networks used for all other Visa, MasterCard and Interac transactions. Your card never leaves your hand and each transaction has a unique, encrypted code that changes every time the card is used.

There have been news reports about “electronic pick-pocketing”, where a criminal with a card reader or smartphone can read the information on these cards and commit fraud. It’s important to know that tap to pay cards are embedded with multiple layers of security to protect you, so the chances of you becoming the victim of this type of fraud are extremely unlikely. These security features include:

  • Short range – Tap to pay cards can only work within short range of a retail terminal, which makes it difficult for criminals to gain access to card information from a distance. Even if they could, the stolen card data cannot be used to create a counterfeit card capable of being used for fraud.
  • Encryption –Tap to pay cards do not use the same RFID technology typically used for inventory management that just transmit information, but instead use the much more secure international EMV chip standards and advanced cryptography. During a transaction, the card and the terminal communicate with each other, doing security checks and transmitting a unique encryption code, which expires after the transaction is finished. If someone was able to get close enough to steal data from your card, they would not be able to use the encryption code because it would have expired.
  • Limited information – The information transmitted during a tap to pay transaction is very limited and includes things like language preference, card number and other coding. The customer’s name, bank account number and the three-digit security code on the back of the credit card are not transmitted during a transaction.
  • Low transaction limits – Generally these cards have low transaction limits – typically between $50 and $100 – and any larger purchase will require you to enter your PIN. If your card is lost, this will prevent large purchases from being made.
  • Zero liability – Visa, MasterCard and Interac all have zero liability policies for credit and debit card holders. In cases of fraud, you won’t be held responsible and will get your money back.

What are my responsibilities?

While tap to pay cards are very safe and there are multiple levels of protection in place to prevent fraud, there are steps you can take to further protect yourself. Here are a few tips to help prevent credit and debit card fraud:

  • Report a lost or stolen card as soon as you notice it’s gone. Your card issuer will cancel your card and issue you a new one.
  • Choose a PIN that could not be easily detected if your card is lost or stolen - don't use your birth date or address
  • Make it a habit to regularly check your transactions online or on your monthly statement. If there are any charges that you didn’t make, report them to your card issuer right away.
  • Never give out your card number over the phone or Internet unless you know you are dealing with a reputable company.
  • Protect your Personal PIN: don't share it with anyone or write it down, memorize it.
  • Sometimes scammers will try to trick people into revealing information about their credit cards either over the phone or through e-mail. It’s important to know that your credit card company or bank would never call to ask for personal information like your credit card number, expiry number, PIN, or the security number on the back of your card.
  • Protect your credit cards like you protect your cash. Never leave them unattended in your car or at work.
  • When travelling, carry your cards with you or make sure they are in a secure location such as a hotel safe.
  • Make a list of all your cards and their numbers and keep this is a secure place. This key information is helpful when reporting lost or stolen cards.

What if I think I am a victim of fraud?

If you have transactions on your credit or debit card that you didn’t make or if you think that you may have revealed your credit card number when you shouldn’t have, contact your bank or credit card issuer right away using the phone number on the back of your card. The card issuer will take the appropriate steps to protect you from fraud.

For more information about tap to pay cards check out the Visa, MasterCard and Interac websites: