But just who is offering contactless payment, how does it work and, most importantly, is it secure to use? Here’s a round-up of who’s already using contactless payment and what’s around the corner.
A sticky, miniature credit card
Barclaycard already offers contactless debit cards, allowing you to pay for items worth no more than £15 by simply holding your card up to a compatible reader at the checkout.
Its latest contactless innovation is PayTag, a miniature, sticky credit card which turns any phone – even if it’s an older model – into a contactless way to pay.
Available only to Barclaycard customers, the PayTag sticker is a third of the size of a normal credit card and literally sticks to the back of your phone. You simply hold your phone up to a contactless payment terminal and you can pay for purchases up to £15 from your Barclaycard credit card account.
PayTag uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, just like on the Oyster card terminals on the London Underground. Barclaycard says PayTag is safe and secure, and if your PayTag is lost or stolen, you’ll be protected against fraudulent activity.
You’ll be able to pay with PayTag in more than 100,000 outlets around the UK.
And the rest?
HSBC will be unveiling its plans for contactless payments later in the spring, but isn’t providing further details at present.
Lloyds Banking Group already has approximately 1.5million contactless debit cards in issue across the UK (1million Lloyds TSB customers and 0.5million Halifax and Bank of Scotland customers.)
The group is currently issuing these cards to individuals in a number of major cities in the UK including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, and says it expects contactless payments to become increasingly popular.
NatWest/RBS also offers contactless credit cards to some customers and contactless debit cards on request to eligible customers.
NatWest plans to increase the number of cards in issue during 2012 and will initially focus on debit cards within London and the South East.
Santander doesn’t currently offer contactless payments on its plastic cards.
O2 has also now launched its own rival to Barclays' Pingit service, allowing users to transfer up to £500 via text message using its new app. The service is free for the time being, but O2 plans to charge 15p per text at a later date. You can read more about Pingit here.
The mobile provider also plans to allow users with NFC-enabled phones to make payments in high street shops by touching their handset against special terminals.
Is contactless payment secure?
It’s natural to be sceptical about new technology, especially when it involves handing over your personal financial details. In theory, contactless payments should be safe and secure – though some services have suffered teething troubles.
Most contactless payment methods use NFC technology, which is based on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, which we’ve used on transport systems like the Tube for years.
NFC only works over an incredibly short range, so if anyone wanted to intercept the data being transmitted, they’d have to stand right next to you – so you’d certainly notice! The data sent is also encrypted, so if it was intercepted the encryption would have to be cracked before your payment details could be revealed.
That said, security firm ViaForensics exposed a flaw with Barclays’ contactless cards in March, claiming they were able to steal card details by tapping an NFC-enabled phone with custom software against a contactless card.
Barclays said that only the information which is printed on the front of the card could be snatched and did not include secure elements such as the PIN or Card Verification Value (CVV) code, which is what would happen if you lost your card and someone else picked it up.
Of course there’s also the risk your card could be lost or stolen and used by someone else as many times as possible until the card is reported missing, but with typical contactless spending limits of £15 and accounts monitored by card issuers, the potential damage a thief could cause is limited.
But whether or not PayTag signals the start of a contactless payment revolution, caution remains the watchword when it comes to paying with your mobile phone or contactless card.
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