Sunday, June 07, 2015

Chip and NOT PIN

I just returned from a trip to Ireland. In preparation I looked into chip and PIN (EMV). As a result of several recent major data breaches the US credit card industry has set a deadline of October 2015 for the first round of chip and PIN implementations. This will apply to retail transactions with gas pumps coming in October 2017.

Europe (and hence Ireland) has been using chip and PIN cards for decades. I've heard tales of US magnetic stripe cards not being accepted in unattended out of the way places in Europe, e.g. unattended train stations in Scotland. Ireland is nothing if not "out of the way."

I really didn't expect any problems but this gave me an opportunity to upgrade my credit cards.

My primary credit card is a national branded MasterCard. When I called them they were right on top of chip and PIN cards. They readily offered to send me a new card with a chip. I went through the discussion with them on how to set the PIN and we seemed to have accomplished that. In hindsight I believe that this was the magnetic stripe PIN. More later.

I called my bank about my Visa debit card. The customer service representative didn't even know what I was talking about.

So one for two. I still felt comfortable. My intent was to only use my debit card in ATMs.

I continued to nose around and came across a discussion about the technical considerations for EMV cards.

It seems that the chip has the ability to specify what authentication methods are used and the preferred sequence. The discussion suggested that most EMV cards being issued in the US for now are chip and signature. Brian Krebs covers that thoroughly here.

What this means is that if you process the card as an EMV, e.g. use the slot on the bottom of the credit card machine, that rather than being prompted for a PIN you will be asked to sign the receipt.

This is exactly what I observed in Ireland.

The retailers were prepared for this. The thoroughness of the clerks varied from paying no attention to the signature to protesting when my daughter had not signed her EMV card.

My daughter had another national bank Visa and like my MasterCard it was accepted everywhere with a signature.

Interestingly one of the hotels we stayed at used an EMV card for room entry. No authentication was required.

Another thing I've run into is that one magnetic stripe credit card reader in Memphis wouldn't accept the EMV card because it was too thick to go into the reader. This particular reader wasn't a traditional magnetic stripe reader but rather used a system that took the card into the reader much like an ATM.

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