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Contactless cards: capitalism thrives, customers lose

Written By: - Date published: 9:24 pm, July 28th, 2013 - 36 comments
Categories: capitalism, crime - Tags: ,

Yesterday on Open Mike we had a bit of a discussion about contactless (“tap and go” or “wave to pay”) credit and debit cards as the result of an article linked by Dv, about technologies used by thieves to pilfer small amounts from unsuspecting people’s cards as the pass by.

Banks are keen to get everyone using them, with customers in some places overseas, when given a choice, opting to stay with older style cards.  Increasingly overseas, as here, banks are not giving customers a choice.  Yet, in spite of assurances, several kinds of problems have been experienced.  Banks are pushing this technology, even before solutions have been found for the weaknesses.  Apparently it is because the cards make transactions faster, and thus people end up spending more money.

Chris Gardner explains the technological pilfering problem in his article on Stuff:

Billions of dollars worth of New Zealand credit card transactions are at risk from a new breed of hi-tech pickpockets armed with electronic skimming devices available online for less than $100.

The devices – sourced from China – target the latest credit cards incorporating wave-to-pay technology, and can empty your card balance without you even realising.

However, it seems only small amounts tend to be pilfered from cards as the contactless function is usually for payments under about $NZ80.00. Furthermore, a Visa spokesperson, Caroline Ada, is quick to downplay the problem.  She says,

that even if a fraudster should “read” the information from a contactless transaction, the information would have limited use.

There had been no reports of fraudulent reading of Visa payWave cards in New Zealand.

“Only minimal account information is stored on a Visa payWave card, which is less than traditional magnetic stripe cards or contact chip cards. In fact, newly issued Visa payWave cards do not even transmit the cardholder’s name during a transaction,” she said.

And apparently there are metal sleeves or wallets made from wire mesh that can protect cards.  These can apparently be bought online, but wrapping a card in tin foil would make it just as secure.  I tried that, but how do you stop the foil falling apart each time you access your card or wallet?

Additional problems with contactless cards have shown up in the UK. In May, 2013,  a Guardian article described some undesirable side effects of the cards:

You hop on a bus and pay the fare with your Oyster card – then, weeks later, you’re going through your finances and discover that the money was taken from your “contactless” credit card instead. You’re left scratching your head as to how this could possibly have happened. Not only have you been charged on the wrong card, you’ve effectively been charged twice for the fare, because you pay for a weekly travelcard to be loaded on to your Oyster card.

This scenario is already being played out in London now that passengers on the capital’s buses can pay using credit and debit cards displaying the contactless payment symbol.

This speedier method of payment, is now resulting in customers having to take time to take precautions:

Transport for London (TfL) is warning people to stop keeping their Oyster card and contactless payment cards together in one holder/wallet/purse to avoid problems caused by clashing technologies.

There’s also been reports of people having had money taken from their contactless cards in department stores when they weren’t planning on using the cards.  And, a reverse problem has been encountered the card wouldn’t work when an Oyster and contactless card were together in the same wallet.

The Daily Mail reported in June that, according to  Ross Anderson, “professor of security engineering at Cambridge University”, in contradiction of the Visa spokesperson quoted above,

‘The problem with contactless cards is they have been rolled out in a haphazard way without careful thought into the consequences.

‘With a modified phone, which can be put together easily, a bank account can have its details stripped from a contactless card in seconds. With the list of someone’s last ten transactions, a thief can use that to answer a bank’s security question.

‘That’s not all they need to know, but a determined thief will be able to get the other information fairly easily and have access to your bank account.

‘Banks blame the stores and vice versa, but the people losing out are customers having their details stolen. The big beneficiaries are the firms who invented the inadequate technology – and, of course, the thieves.’

bank card rip offs whose in your wallet

However, it’s not only the inventors of the contactless technology that are benefiting, but the banks and other businesses.  According to The Smart Card Alliance, contactless cards have resulted in merchants seeing increased sales volumes, and fewer costs due to the ease of transactions. They claim an added value of increasing the amount of transactions and,

 improved customer acquisition and retention.

They also claim something that gets a bit lost in corporate speak: i.e.

service providers can now differentiate themselves with innovative new form factors.

as well as

delivery of payment products into a variety of product types targeting different cardholder segments that have specific desires for their shopping experience.

I’ll let you work out what those last two points mean.

The Smart Card Alliance has a lot of big players in their membership, including the main producers of contactless cards, Mastercard and Visa.

So, basically, in their rush to get more of our money, these institutions that spend a lot of time warning us to handle our fincances in secure ways, ultimately care less for our security and more for their profits.  And they don’t seem to care about the extra worries and hassles their rush for profits may visit on us.


36 comments on “Contactless cards: capitalism thrives, customers lose”

  1. QoT 1

    I do love how when the question is “can people steal my money?” Visa’s response is “don’t be silly, of course they can’t steal your identity.” And by love I mean “am filled with rage at their shitty irresponsible spin”.

    • karol 1.1

      Ha. I missed that one. Good catch.

    • Lanthanide 1.2

      Actually it was more of “of course they can’t get information that would let them later compromise your account and steal money”.

      So they did answer a question about stealing money, just not what was actually asked – can someone charge $80 onto my card when I’m sitting on the bus / train without me knowing.

      Now, I think this fear is a bit overblown, because it wouldn’t take too long for someone to report a suspicious transaction. Anyone carrying out such transactions vis-a-vis must have a merchant account with a credit card provider (through some avenue), therefore it would be very simple for the credit card company to trace all transactions relating to that merchant account and refund all of them.

      • McFlock 1.2.1

        That assumes that the merchant account-holder is the end criminal, rather than simply having a Tony Soprano standing over his shoulder looking for debt payments. And that’s if the merchant’s financial systems haven’t been cloned or compromised in some other way. A good day’s work in the central city could net ($79.99*1000 people passing by that morning) $80k. Merchant gets nabbed, but the proceeds are withdrawn/transferred that afternoon before the banks close. Good luck tracking the cash flow before it money evaporates into cash or goods.

        • Draco T Bastard

          So, an electronic transaction that is on record and traceable isn’t traceable?

          One of the reasons why I like money going to full cashless is that it’s going to make crime so much harder. Still, it has to be done through a government system because, as the LIBOR scandal showed, the private banks themselves are criminals.

          • McFlock

            It’s traceable, right up until you take it out of the electronic system or launder it.

            And I believe larger-denomination notes are sort of tracked (branch they went out, branch they came in).
            But if I want a few grand from a small business owner, I could get them to run the scam (on pain of pain) and divert the money from their company account somehow. By the time they get caught, I have quite a bit of cash and they go to gaol.

          • muzza

            Draco, your heads in the sand again mate. If you think all digital is going to reign the banks in, you are off your rocker!

            Harder crime with digital – Not for the banks though, which will still be private, not nationalized, that is NOT going to happen!

            BTW, you do understand that the global monetary system is almost 100% digital already eh?

            • Draco T Bastard

              If you think all digital is going to reign the banks in, you are off your rocker!

              I didn’t say that. I said that the banks need reigning in as they tend to be criminals.

              Harder crime with digital – Not for the banks though, which will still be private, not nationalized, that is NOT going to happen!

              Oh, it could happen – just need to keep pointing out that the problem that we have is the private banks and the way that they scam everyone.

              BTW, you do understand that the global monetary system is almost 100% digital already eh?

              Yep, I am and that’s why I get pissed off with people who still think that cash matters.

              • muzza

                Cash is the final barrier in the system, B!

                Be careful what you wish for, the banks won’t be anything but private, it’s not going to happen. Those who own the banking system, have far too much power, actually pretty much all of it, which can be seen by way of no change, despite the world acceptance, that the banking system is s criminal enterprise!

                That’s power!

                • Gosman

                  “…Global monetary system is almost 100% digital already”

                  Ummmm…. not quite. I don’t think you even know what that term means and are just spouting stuff that comes in to your mind. Please explain what a 100% digital monetary system is.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    The problem with contactless cards is they have been rolled out in a haphazard way without careful thought into the consequences.


    We’re seeing it across NZ as different bus companies get different technology companies to put in place different contact-less cards for payment of bus fares. In Auckland I have to carry three payment types to get across town: Snapper Card out West, ATHop for trains and some buses and cash for the rest.

    This excess complexity and unneeded expense could easily have been avoided if the whole lot was rolled out by government or even if the government had just set some standards for the cards first (with a proviso that no card would be rolled out until the government had set standards). Actually, the standards are the most important as they could clearly set security standards, whose liable for the fraud on them and they also increase competition.

  3. infused 3

    So how many people has this happened to? More so than skimming?

    Only contactless cards I’ve seen so far are credit cards.

    • karol 3.1

      My Auckland Hop card is contactless – wave it in front of the machine at the beginning and end of each journey.

      There have been problems. First there’s the problems DTB mentioned, then,

      In April 2013 several problems with the AT HOP card system were exposed, including being able to top up the card using other people’s bank details, money not correctly loading onto the cards and a lack of legal backing behind fines imposed on riders who haven’t paid.[14]

      And there may be others with contactless credit and debit cards – people won’t necessarily know if they don’t check their statements carefully.

      And the pilfering machines don’t seem to have reached NZ, yet.

      Also, I think a lot of people don’t realise their credit/debit cards now have a “wave and go” function.

    • Lanthanide 3.2

      Metrocards in Christchurch have been contactless since 2003.

  4. vto 4

    All cards are slower than cash.

    • weka 4.1

      and produce a lot more pollution.

      • Lanthanide 4.1.1

        Not true. Cash requires armorguard trucks driving all over town to transport money between banks and shops: shops buy change and then send their takings back to the bank.

        Cards on the other hand simple change some numbers in a bank account.

        • weka

          I was referring to the thermal printouts saturated in BPA.

          Still, would be interesting to see a cradle to grave environmental analysis of cash vs electronic money.

          • karol

            And at least with cash, there isn’t the added intrusion of an individual’s every move and purchase being picked up in metadata sweeps.

    • Lanthanide 4.2

      Debatable. Depends on the customer and also the checkout operator. If it’s a simple $50 and you have a $50 note, then it’s fast. If you get someone scrambling around for change etc, then contactless cards can easily be faster.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.3

      Nope, cash is far, far slower.

  5. s y d 5

    whats the fucken hurry? where is everyone going that they need to be there earlier than before?

    • weka 5.1

      People have less time now because of all the txting and answering cell phones and looking on the internet they have to do.

    • Arfamo 5.2

      whats the fucken hurry? where is everyone going that they need to be there earlier than before?

      Back to fucken work. To pay the banks. 🙁

  6. McFlock 6

    Depending on how your wallet or purse is laid out, you could put the foil on the outside of the pocket rather than the inside. But a hole punch in the corner of the card definitely works on some passive contactless cards – break/change the aerial and there is no frequency resonance, so no power to the chip.

  7. Rosie 7

    Hmm, that’s interesting folks. Maybe for once my inherent distrust of wireless technology/things to do with banking may have a basis.

    I received my Kiwibank MasterCard in the mail recently. It’s only for emergencies and I needed to make a $25 purchase on my credit card last week. (I think the limit is $80 for a tap n go purchase). The shop assistant suggested I use the tap n go function and I said nah, don’t trust it. She replied and said, no me neither. We proceeded with the more traditional electronic method.

    As well as not trusting it and having had fruitless discussions with the KB complaints person about their relentless push to get their customers away from physical customer contact for banking services (they assume everyone has a smartphone), I wouldn’t use it because the advertising makes me so frowny face.

    There’s the All Blacks ad. All Blacks, say no more, I’m not their biggest fan. Then there’s the ad where everyone is dressed in grey, looking like dreary cloned office workers, in line to pay for lunch. There’s a freak out when the character in the ad pays in cash, – the cashier treats him with contempt and the customers stare at him like he’s a moron. One ad is saying “you can be like your hero, the all blacks, and use tap n go, then you’ll be cooler than you actually are”. The other ad says “you’re a loser and an outsider for not using pay n wave”. (or the other way around, didn’t pay enough attention to see what cards are represented in what ad) Like syd at #5 says, whats the hurry?

    I’ve gone back to using cash, in general. You know where you’re at with good ol’ cash. And, yes, it does cause a stir.

  8. Tiger Mountain 8

    Carry cash, notes and gold coins with you and you are off the grid to a small extent, just the original withdrawal (from a branch counter not an ATM) shows up.

    Of course a hundred in store cameras and CCTV lenses will record you regardless but it is still freeing to see the look of horror or condescension when you set down some real money. Online purchases they still have you by b***s as you need a debit card at the very least, but get a Prezzie card not a full debit card as there is less tracking again on what you are up to especially compared to full credit cards.

    A wad of cash is helpful in unexpected situations too–powercuts, and natural disasters.

  9. insider 9

    Contactless cows: capitalism thrives, customers lose

    Banks are keen to get everyone using this new thing called ‘cash’ complains feudal lord William FitzWilliam despite significant security issues compared to the traditional cow.

    “This new cash stuff is flimsy, hard to identify, easily lost and not resistant to water like a good cow. Consumers could be losing the equivalent of millions of kilos of prime beef a year due to the ease with which cash can be stolen.”

    Increasingly overseas, as here, banks are not giving customers a choice and refusing to accept payment by cow for basic transactions, FitzWilliam said. Many businesses are now only accepting cows by prior arrangement. The banks are adding cow handling fees,. Soon the banks will shut down the cow transfer and settlement system completely, he worries.

    “Yet, in spite of assurances, several kinds of problems have been experienced. Banks are pushing this new cash technology, even before solutions have been found for the weaknesses. Apparently it is because the cash makes transactions faster, and thus people end up spending more money.

    “Now with a cow, the security is very high. They can’t slip out of your wallet to be picked up by people in the street, and they can’t be easily transported and hidden,” says Lord FitzWilliam. “It’s just driven by banksters trying to trick us with so called convenience. I blame John key…for everything.” The Standard is five and a half.

    • karol 9.1

      I prefer grain myself. Easier to handle, and you can eat it when there is nothing to exchange it for. Easier to store and cook than a cow.

      You just can’t eat money.

      And John Key is up for any kind of barter – money, shares, state assets, convention centres, wine for journos, gifts for baby princes – all to enhance his own political power. It’s all about power, who is calling the tune, and who benefits.

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