If you live in most industrialized nations in the world, you probably already have your new EMV Chip credit or debit card. Or you at least know what the are. If you live in America, you probably have not heard about EMV Chip cards. Like the metric system and an appropriate usage of the word “football”, the US has been sluggish to take up the EMV standard. But what is EMV anyway?
EMV stands for “Europay, Mastercard and VISA”, an unsatisfying phrase which tells you little about the underlying technology. In essence, EMV is a better, safer way to pay with your credit or debit card. These cards, since time immemorial, have worked with mid-20th century technology. Using the familiar magnetic strip on the back of your cards, unique information about you was transmitted to your retailer, every time you swiped. The problem was (and is) that this magnetic strip is antiquated. It’s basically the same technology you find in a cassette tape, that is…if you can find a cassette tape. Cassettes were abandoned years ago, and for good reason. A thoroughly analog format, the material on the tape aged with time, and couldn’t hold a lot of information to begin with.
That’s the problem with the little magnetic strip on your credit card: it can’t hold a lot of information. And, the information stays the same. It makes you very vulnerable every time you swipe that card. If a thief can get ahold of your information from a card swipe, the thief can use that information over and over to buy stuff, until you or your bank catches the problem. Many people have been financially ruined after getting their credit card information stolen. And though the industry has become a lot better about helping customers out after card theft and consequent illicit purchases, the industry is still very much at the mercy of the thieves.
This has become no more apparent than through the many breaches of American retailer security, whereby tens of millions of credit card infos have been lost to thieves. Names like Target and P.F. Chang’s are familiar to all. Real, normal Americans are getting fleeced. This information is all too easy to steal, and it’s happening to lots of us. Whether or not your information will be used against you is another thing. But simply to have it stolen is enough to make us want a better way.
This is where EMV comes in. Rather than communicating a tiny bit of static information when you swipe at the register, EMV is a chip that lives inside your card. Every time you insert (not swipe) your card, the chip will communicate reams of data about you and about this specific transaction. The information transmitted is only good one time, for one transaction. Even if a thief could steal this info, it wouldn’t do any good as its not reusable.
Later this year, EMV is coming on a national scale. You’ll see major American retailers changing over their credit card systems, and you’ll be receiving new EMV cards in the mail. People who travel a lot will be identified by their credit card companies as candidates to receive their EMV card early. This is because they will have already witnessed the new, better way in other countries that they’ve visited. In the end, EMV is a much better way, and it’ll result in a revolution in credit card security. It’s coming whether you’re ready or not. But it’s better to know what’s up, why it’s good, and how you’ll benefit. Look for your EMV card this fall!