If you wonder what passes for fun for personal finance writers, you need look no further than the EMV for a Week Challenge.
It’s the brainchild of digital security firm Gemalto which was wondering why, after all the buzz last fall about chip cards (aka EMV cards), weren’t more retailers accepting them. So they sent me and three other writers some spending cash and a list of ten tasks to complete within a week with our EMV cards.
The results – at least in my case – show you won’t be dipping your card anytime soon.
EMV for a Week results
Before we get to the why, let’s start with the what. As in, what exactly were my results? (If you need to get up to speed on the challenge, you can read more about it here.)
As for the results, here’s what I had to buy and how it went:
Get coffee at a local (not chain) coffee shop: Success! I was so geeked my first stop had a chip reader from Square. I thought maybe I was mistaken – maybe chip cards really are being read in my area. Alas, I would have to wait seven more days for another success.
Make any purchase at a big-box store: After seven days of swiping rather than dipping my card, I headed to Target for my final task because I knew they would have EMV readers in use there. I was not disappointed.
Get a meal inside a fast food restaurant: Not only does not my local McDonald’s not read chip cards, they don’t even have the right terminals yet.
Buy a magazine at a gas station: I discovered the magazine selection at the local gas station is very limited…although if you’re into guns or girls, they’ve got you covered. They had an EMV terminal but still had me swipe my card.
Get $50 worth of groceries: At the grocery store, they again had EMV terminals but didn’t ask me to insert my card. I swiped it instead. The cashier told me the thinking was they didn’t want to turn on the EMV terminals before the holidays and now the thinking is “apparently we just don’t want to do it”
Buy a tacky t-shirt: I thought the local thrift store would be a treasure trove of tacky shirts, but the people in my community apparently have better taste than I thought. Still, I was able to find something that fit the bill here. No EMV terminal to be found, however.
Get someone special a bouquet of flowers: For this task, I decided to stop by a local floral shop and ask for an arrangement to be sent to our local nursing center. They had a Square terminal but no chip reader. The owner told me Square was sold out of chip readers when she bought the terminal, and she couldn’t get hers until March.
Hit a tourist attraction in your town: My son went tubing at the local slopes, and I stopped by the ski shop when I picked him up. They had an EMV terminal but the chip reader wasn’t turned on so I swiped rather than dipped my card.
Buy office supplies: For office supplies, I swung into Dollar Tree to see what the EMV situation was like there. They had an EMV terminal, but the cashier said it probably wouldn’t start reading chips until June.
Mail a postcard from your local post office: The post office has an EMV reader, but it wasn’t reading chips. The clerk was quite amused when I said I was surprised the government wasn’t on top of the EMV transition.
So there you have it: my score for the EMV for a Week challenge was 2/8.
While that number is low, it seems to be on par with the number of merchants accepting chip cards nationwide. Last month, Visa reported 17 percent of its face-to-face merchants were able to process chip transactions.
Merchant misunderstanding, high costs may be to blame
Last fall, the liability for some credit card fraud shifted to retailers. Specifically, if a bank gave a person a chip card and then a retailer let a fraudulent charge go through because they didn’t have a chip reader, then the retailer would be on the hook for the cost of that purchase. Previously, the financial institution absorbed all the costs associated with fraud.
However, not all merchants seem to know about the liability shift. The owner of our local floral shop said she didn’t understand how reading the chip is better than swiping the strip on a card. When I mentioned merchants could be liable for fraudulent charges made with a chip card, it was news to her. While she hadn’t heard of the liability shift, she did say she already checks IDs for everyone using a card because she worries about stolen credit cards.
Meanwhile, Ross Martin, owner of Caledonia Village Ace Hardware in Caledonia, Michigan, told me he too is experiencing delays in being able to upgrade equipment. His supplier has indicated it will be at least six months before they can begin the process of updating the store’s terminals and software to be EMV compatible.
Fortunately, the number of customers using chip cards in the minimal, he says. “So few people have chips on their cards that we’re instructing workers to check IDs until our system is updated.”
Banks slow to rollout EMV cards to everyone
Certainly, Martin may have a point about the number of people who have chip cards in our area. A quick look in my wallet shows only one EMV card. My small, local credit union hasn’t sent me a chip card. Neither has the regional bank that holds my mortgage and a checking account. Even the national banks haven’t updated their cards.
In fact, the only EMV card I have is a travel rewards credit card that came back in December 2014 with a chip (presumably because they figured I would be jetting off to Europe where chips have been standard for quite some time…I wish!).
As of December 2015, Square reported 53 percent of the payments processed by their merchants were chip cards. While that number may be skewed since Square typically processes transactions only for smaller businesses, it implies a whole lot of people don’t have chip cards yet.
The Gemalto EMV for a Week challenge reinforced what I already knew: at least here in West Michigan, it’s the rare retailer who will ask you to dip your card.
I’m interested to see how the other participants fared, and you can keep an eye on the Gemalto blog for their wrap-up of everyone’s experiences.
In the meantime, leave a comment below and let me know if you have a chip card, whether retailers have you swipe or dip and what state you’re in. I’m curious to hear how people in other parts of the country fare when it comes to fraud protection.