PIN: The way to keep your credit cards safe

Last spring, I received my first credit card with an EMV chip.  Enclosed with the new card was a note from the bank that issued it telling me I did not need a personal identification number when using it.  In fact, I was not even given a PIN.

By mid-summer, the card had been compromised and re-issued twice.  Not because the card had been counterfeited: The fraud occurred because someone had gotten my card number. 

{mosads}The thief was ordering Ipads 10 at a time and simply providing my card information. The card number used to make the fraudulent purchase was valid, but the merchant had no way of verifying that the person using the card wasn’t me.

I had to change the information on all my direct-pay accounts linked to the card.  Unfortunately, I forgot that my EZ pass was re-filled automatically on the stolen (now cancelled) card, and didn’t make the change to the new card.  This caused a very embarrassing situation in the EZ pass lane of a bridge.

Stolen credit card information gets used tens of thousands of times each day.  It probably has even happened to you.  And it could be stopped by simply asking the person using the card to verify that they are indeed the owner of the card.

This could be done many ways. But the simplest and most cost-effective measure today is using a PIN.

No less an authority than the Federal Reserve has found PINs make debit-card transactions 700 percent safer.  Britain found credit-card fraud in stores dropped by three-quarters after requiring cards have computer chips and PINs.

Yes, Europe is already far ahead of the U.S. in this crucial security measure. In fact, EMV chips embedded in your card paired with a PIN are already the standard in the rest of the developed world. It’s a major reason credit-card fraud has been going down in other places – and is now migrating to the U.S. from around the globe.

Major news outlets from Forbes magazine to CNN to NBC News to The Washington Post have all pointed out this fatal shortcoming in the security of our credit cards.

In January, for example, the Wall Street Journal reported that “PINs are widely considered to be more secure than signatures, which can be easily copied. The more advanced ‘chip-and-PIN’ technology has been adopted in Europe, Australia and Canada. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries not to embrace it.”

Yet, the paper said, “Instead of requiring customers to put in a personal identification number, or PIN, the new cards [only] need users to authenticate credit-card transactions the same way they often do now, with a signature.”

Top U.S. law-enforcement officials also say PIN makes cards more secure. It’s the global gold standard proven to protect credit card holders.

You only need to go to your nearest ATM machine to realize that.  It would be laughable for someone to suggest that ATMs should stop using PINs.  Everyone knows that would just make things easy for thieves. 

But products in stores are also worth real money – to merchants and customers alike.  Merchants ought to be able to protect their products just like the ATM owners protect their money. 

Unless and until we give store-owners the tools to protect themselves and their customers with PINs, fraud will keep going up and thieves will keep doing all they can to steal credit card numbers.  It’s time for that to stop.

Beckwith is senior vice president for Government Relations at the National Association of Convenience Stores. For more information, go to their new website: http://www.privatePIN.com.

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