Are EMV Cards Really Safer?

With the recent spate of mass identity thefts at major retailers like Target and Home Depot, you might be wondering how to best protect your credit card and debit card information. If you’ve heard about EMV cards, you’re likely wondering whether they actually offer you more security than regular credit cards or if it’s all just hype.

EMV cards have an electronic chip and, depending on the card, require you to either input a pin number each time you use them or sign for them like you would a regular credit card. EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa – the three companies that originally created the security standard, but nowadays most major credit card issuers offer EMV options. EMV has actually be the standard for years in countries around the world and for good reason. The cards offer a lot of advantages over magnetic strip cards when it comes to security.

They Fight Fraud

EMV cards are designed to reduce the use of cloned credit cards. With normal magnetic strip cards, it is fairly easy to create a fake card. When you swipe your magnetic card at a terminal, the machine reads the magnetic field and recognizes your card. With magnetic cards, this data remains the same. That means that scammers can easily lift your information by reading it with a device called a ‘skimmer’ and clone your card. Skimmers are relatively cheap at around $20 – making it very easy to commit credit card fraud.

But with chip cards, the process of cloning a card is considerably more complicated. A skimmer wouldn’t work. Instead, they would have to get access to the chip circuit and get your bank or credit card information that way. This process is incredibly difficult and requires very expensive high-tech equipment to do it. It makes cloning credit cards out of reach for the average conman and likely not worth the trouble. In countries that have implemented EMV cards, fraud related to cloned cards has decreased.

They Are Encrypted

With magnetic cards, the bank information they carry is unencrypted. Many processing machines will encrypt this data after it is processed, but carrying around a magnetic card with all that easy-to- read data makes you easy prey for scammers. In contrast, chip cards are encrypted. That means that the information needs a credit card or debit terminal to decipher it. This provides you with added security by making it extremely difficult for a scammer to steal your information.

They Keep the Card in Your Hands

One benefit of EMV cards is that they often require the cardholder to slide the card into the reader and input a PIN number. Because of that, EMV cards generally remain in the consumer’s hands.

With magnetic strip cards, tellers or cashiers often had to swipe the cards themselves. That means that they could also swipe the cards through a skimmer and steal the card’s information to create a clone. By keeping the cards in the hands of the consumer, there is little chance for this.

There Are Still Security Risks

Just because you have an EMV card, doesn’t mean you’ll be completely safe from fraud. A significant amount of credit card fraud takes place online, where the chip on your EMV card won’t protect you. Another area of vulnerability is the fact that many US chip credit cards use the chip and signature method of verification – which is much less safe than using your chip with a PIN number.

Also, if a store doesn’t have a point of sale terminal that can accept chip cards, then you’ll need to use the magnetic strip on your card instead. In that case, you will face the same risks that you might if you were using a normal magnetic strip card. This would allow a scammer to clone your card, but they would only be able to use it at places that didn’t accept chip cards. One workaround in this case is to add your card numbers to your preferred mobile payment app. These apps protect your data through encryption and often have security methods to confirm your identity.

Finally, there have been several successful hacks that have intercepted PIN numbers and cloned the magnetic strips on EMV cards. One in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium found that cards that had been manufactured in China were tampered with and the PINs of credit and debit cards were harvested. By the time it was discovered, millions had been stolen. Despite this, attacks on EMV cards are rarer and more difficult than those on magnetic strip cards.

EMV Cards are Safer

Ultimately, EMV cards offer significantly more protections against fraud than normal credit and debit cards with magnetic strips alone. If you’re concerned about your credit or debit card security, you should get an EMV card. Most credit card issuers and banks either currently offer or will soon offer EMV card options.