A simples guide

A guide to contactless payments

If the words ‘are you paying contactless?’ have ever left you a bit confused, then you’re probably not alone. There’s no doubt that the presence of contactless credit and debit cards is on the rise – there were 86.5 million of them at the last count in March 2016. But that doesn’t mean we all understand exactly what contactless cards are all about, so if you want to find out more, read on.


What is a contactless card payment?

Chances are you might not even know if your card has a contactless facility – your new credit or debit arrives in the post, you pop it in your wallet and off to the shops you go. So if you’re not sure whether you have a contactless card or not, look for the little radio wave symbol on it. If it has the symbol, then you’ve got a contactless card.

Having a contactless card means that you can make payments of less than £30 in various places by just tapping your card on the payment terminal. Just wait for the green light on the card reader or listen out for the beep and hey presto – as if by magic, you’ve paid for your stuff.

How does it work?

It’s very clever tech - there’s a chip in the card that sends out radio waves. When you hold the card near a payment terminal, it transmits information to complete your purchase. It’s estimated that there are more than 350,000 payment terminals in the country so you’ve probably had the option of using contactless even if you haven’t done so.

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Is it… safe?

It’s as safe as using a good old chip and PIN card and statistics have actually shown that fraudulent use of contactless cards is teeny tiny. Just 0.007% of all contactless transactions were as a result of fraud in the first six months of 2014.

An additional security layer also means that every now and again, you’ll be asked to enter your PIN just to make sure it’s really you that’s using your card. Like with any other credit or debit card, if you think it’s been stolen, report it to your bank or building society straight away – you’ll be protected against any loss and compensated for any fraudulent use.

Of course, like with any new technology, there’ll be concerns and even some scare stories – so here are the facts:

• Someone could take my money by scanning my card – it’s highly unlikely that this would or even could happen. Stores need to have a retail account set up in order to take money from a card and the checks for this are pretty rigorous in the first place. It also means that all payments can be tracked so you know exactly where they’ve gone. Terminals accepting contactless payments also work in a specific way – you need to be close to the reader and it can’t be near any metal objects.

Payments could be taken accidently – your card will need to be very close to the payment terminal (just a few centimetres) in order to make a purchase, simply walking past a till point won’t suddenly drain your account of funds.

• I could be charged twice – contactless payment readers can’t multitask and can only deal with one transaction at a time and all transactions need to be keyed in separately. Even if you had two contactless cards in your wallet and waved your wallet over the terminal, the conflicting transmissions from both cards would mean neither would work.

• If I wrap my contactless card with foil, it’ll stop it being read – no official tests have been carried out but anecdotally and in some cases, it can prevent your card from being read, so it’s up to you if you want to carry your credit/debit card around like a sandwich (although you might get some funny looks when it comes to paying for your stuff).

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To be, or not to be contactless – that is the question

Not all banks and building societies will issue contactless cards as standard so if you’ve got a burning desire to get one, then it’s worth asking, in most cases it’ll be down to eligibility. If the thought of contactless is just a bit too science fiction for you, you can usually ask for a credit or debit card without this feature but ultimately this will be at your bank or building society’s discretion.

Credit where it’s due (contactless or not)

Of course, the main purpose of a credit card is to, well… get some credit. So, if you’ve got a few little purchases you need to make or are looking to transfer your existing balance, why not start comparing the market to find the right card for you. You could also have a look at our current account tables while you’re at it to see if you’re getting the best deal. It’s quick and easy, so come on, start now…

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