What is a contactless payment card?
Contactless payment cards are ordinary debit, credit or prepaid cards that allow you to make payments by waving or ‘tapping’ the card over a card reader without a PIN being entered.
Contactless cards have a logo of four bold lines making a wave symbol – if your card doesn’t have this symbol then ask your provider if they can supply you with one.
You can also get contactless technology on a range of other devices, such as key fobs, smart phones and other wearable devices.
How do contactless payments work?
Contactless payment cards use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and have a small chip inside them that emits radio waves. An antenna is built into the plastic to securely transact with a contactless reader device.
To pay for something, hold the card near a contactless payment terminal (also called an RFID reader). The terminal will pick up a signal, communicate with the card using a secure encrypted code and process the payment.
The terminal will confirm when the payment has been accepted – usually emitting a beep and a green or red light. The great thing is there’s no need to swipe your card, enter it into the terminal, or enter a PIN.
You can make contactless payments at most shops, restaurants and other retailers that have contactless payment terminals. You can also use contactless payment cards to pay Transport for London fares on buses, trains, trams and tubes by ‘tapping’ your card on the reader.
For security, there is a £30 limit on each contactless transaction. For amounts over £30 you’ll be required to enter a PIN as normal, which keeps fraudulent transactions to a minimum.
What are the benefits of using contactless payments?
You can make contactless payments using your mobile phone or smart watch – so there’s no need to find your wallet at all. The most common forms of mobile payment are through Apple Pay or Android Pay on a compatible device, which are normally the newer models of phone.
Do I have to have a contactless payment card?
Most banks will automatically issue contactless cards now due to their ease of use and convenience. You will receive one when issued a new or replacement debit, credit or prepaid card.
However, if you don’t want a contactless card due to security concerns, contact your bank or card provider and they can replace your cards with Chip and PIN only.
A small number of people will be refused a contactless debit card by their bank if the account they have does not qualify or they have a poor credit history. Some contactless transactions take place ‘offline’, so banks and building societies can’t tell if you have enough money to cover the transaction.
Are contactless cards safe?
Yes – banks have security measures in place to ensure contactless payment cards are completely safe.
Firstly, there is the £30 per transaction limit on contactless cards to avoid bigger sums being spent fraudulently. Secondly, card issuers restrict the number of contactless transactions that can be made before your PIN is requested.
So if your card is lost or stolen, contact your bank straight away. You are fully protected against fraud, so you’ll get all your money back and won’t be left out of pocket.
And despite the scare stories, it’s not possible for someone with a card reader to come close to you and steal the information on your card or steal money from your card.
If you have two or more contactless cards in your wallet there is no danger of paying for the same purchase more than once, because card machines can only make one transaction at a time. So if you present a purse or wallet that contains more than one contactless card to the device, the cards will clash and no payment will be taken.
That said, if you use Transport for London’s contactless readers there can be a clash between Oyster cards and contactless cards, so be wary when tapping in. If you tap in with an Oyster and then out with a contactless card, you will be charged two maximum fares. You can have this refunded, but only three times in any one month.
How to disable a contactless card
Despite contactless payment cards being a safe way to pay, some people might still want to disable the card’s contactless facility.
You can do this by breaking the card’s electrical circuit by snipping a corner off the card or making a 5mm cut into the card from one of the edges. Alternatively you can locate the card’s antenna and drill through it.
Another option is to buy an “RFID blocker”. This might be a card sleeve or wallet which stops the card’s radio waves being picked up by a card reader. Covering your card in tin foil can have the same effect.
Contactless payments aren’t just available on bank cards – but other devices too. These include:
- Key fobs
- Watches and wristbands
- Fitness trackers
- Mobile phones
The underlying technology for all of these contactless payment devices is the same. The contactless device contains an antenna so that when it is placed near a contactless terminal, it securely transmits purchase information to and from the terminal.