Card Won't Swipe? Lick It!

This was sent to us as an, “oh, this is gross and bad customer service,” but I actually think it’s a good tip for something to try if your credit or debit card won’t swipe, and there’s no plastic bags around.

Today, at the Costco in Rancho Cordova, California, a Costco employee licked my ATM card. When I tried to scan my card, the usual happened. It wouldn’t scan. I tried several times, to no avail. The cashier, “Victoria A.”, then took my card from me. I thought she was going to scan it at her register, but I was wrong! Instead, she licked her index finger, rubbed it on the magnetic strip on my ATM card, then ran it through the scanner. To be fair, the scanner DID read the card once the card had been licked. I think Costco should have a policy about employee licking. What do you think?

Rubbing the card through a plastic bag to build up static electricity also works well. Just based on my own personal experience, there’s usually a large reservoir of plastic bags available in the general vicinity of the checkout area.

Costco employees should not lick ATM cards [Splash’s Training Day]
(Photo: Ninha Morandini)


Edit Your Comment

  1. who the hell thinks up stuff like this?

  2. secretoftheeast says:

    Not to question you or anything, but I didn’t know that Costco carried plastic bags.

    I did have this happen to me before (my card not working), and the cashier spooled out some receipt paper and covered it with that, then swiped my card. This apparently worked. I wonder what makes it work?

  3. unleashed says:

    Grab a piece of scotch tape, put it on once and it’ll work. Just leave it on and you won’t have to worry about paper, plastic bag, or licking your card. eww I agree with discounteggroll, who thinks of this?

  4. Megatenist says:

    This actually does work.Helps when you’re at checkout in your local supermarket when the card reader is too finicky.

    Also helps if you’re single and alone on a lonely night…….

    I’m just saying

  5. B says:

    @discounteggroll: Magnetic stripe fetishists? I’m with the OP, that’s gross.

  6. 44 in a Row says:

    Running the card through the reader with some receipt tape folded over the magnetic stripped always worked for me.

  7. 44 in a Row says:


  8. Rupan says:

    Bad headline. She didn’t lick the card. She licked her finger then rubbed the card.

    I have done this to my own cards but not to someone elses.

  9. friendlynerd says:

    A policy would be a waste of time and money. She didn’t run her tongue over your card. Her actions didn’t harm you – in fact, she helped by making your card work.

    Where’s the issue here?

  10. Sugarless says:

    That sounds like good customer service to me.

    You could always clean it later if it bothered you.

  11. gomakemeasandwich says:

    What a dumbass story. This is right up there with the bitch who was crying about McDonalds coke cups the other day. Stop shitting on this site with these bullshit stories.

    By the way, is it wrong that this story kind of turned me on?

  12. Megatenist says:

    I would go back and ask for her phone #

    Seriously,she didn’t actually lick it,but that’s going…uh..”above and beyond” good customer service

  13. katylostherart says:

    if mine doesn’t read at the self checkout things i just swipe slower and lean it slightly so that the card definitely makes contact with the sides of the slot.

  14. gomakemeasandwich says:


    There is none, except that we have yet another retarded story to comment on.

  15. MissPeacock says:

    @BitterSugar: Agreed. You hand your card over to germy people all the time at the cash register. I would be happy if someone thought to do what the cashier did; now you have a card that works!

  16. amyschiff says:

    when I used to be a cashier, I would just wipe the strip on my pants and that usually did enough to make it work. Most of the time it’s just sickeningly dirty

  17. audreyhorne says:

    “I think Costco should have a policy about employee licking. “… um, yes, of course!!!

    also, yes lets be happy the card worked, but really- someone elses spit i’m only willing to deal with if it involves a nice dinner paid for beforehand and perhaps some loving feelings afterwards over a glass of wine and wheel of fortune.

  18. Norskman says:

    I think Mythbusters will have to test this for us!

  19. Juggernaut says:

    @discounteggroll: @Megatenist: @

    These posts are killing me but it does make a Friday go by a little quicker.

    Isn’t it supposed to be gomakemeasandwichbitch?

  20. javi0084 says:

    I think Costco should hire card lickers.

  21. qwijybo says:

    Or perhaps stores could clean the card reader heads from time to time. Like any magnetic medium the reader heads clog with dirt and magnetic particles from the cards.

  22. Juggernaut says:

    @gomakemeasandwich: Sorry! Isn’t it supposed to be gomakemeasandwichbitch?

  23. gomakemeasandwich says:


    I didn’t want anyone to be offended.

  24. henwy says:

    How about:

    Card Won’t Swipe? Rub Saliva On It!

  25. Simkins says:

    @gomakemeasandwich, its not the same at all. The McDonalds story was valid, paid for a large and got a medium, make sence? No.

  26. seamer says:

    You don’t actually ‘rub the card with a plastic bag to generate static electricity’, that’s a sure way to demagnetise the card.

    You wrap the plastic around the card like a condom and swipe it that way.

  27. sublicon says:

    I’m disappointed, I thought she *actually* licked it. :(

  28. lavalint says:

    Sometimes old cards are too thin to be read. A bit of tissue works too to build it up a bit.

  29. maddypilar says:

    I don’t want anyone saliva on my credit card I don’t really care how they put it there or what the outcome is, it’s gross.

  30. evslin says:

    Who thinks of stuff like this?

    Easy: MacGyver.

    I bet you he’s already figured out a way to make it work with Chili’s funky chunky sour cream too.

  31. tande says:

    From what I’ve always heard the reason behind why some of these tricks work is that when you stick these cards in a wallet the pressure flattens them after a while. Its expecially true for men who not only have all that junk in the wallet pressing against the cards but sit on it all day long.

    Thats why the bags, paper, tape etc work. They give it just that much more thickness so that the card hits the reader correctly.

    There was an old consumerist article on making “custom” credit cards with iron ons. They mentioned in that too that the extra bit of thickness from the iron on actually helped the cards read better.

  32. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @Juggernaut: Shouldn’t it be gomakeasandwichsoicaneatitbitch? Otherwise you’ll wind up transformed into a sandwich. Trust me, I should know.

  33. gomakemeasandwich says:


    Yeah, it was valid if you care about 4oz of sugar water.

  34. smallestmills says:

    What if they used a dog’s saliva? Aren’t their mouths supposed to be cleaner than ours? That’s it, Costco should have card dogs. It’d be cute, too.
    I just think it’s gross that a cashier would actually lick her finger after touching all that dirty money and merchandise. I know that after my retail shifts the dirt makes the sink black, yuck.
    @ the tape person…I do that, too. Customers are always impressed.

  35. gomakemeasandwich says:


    Me too actually.

  36. gomakemeasandwich says:


    If she’s that dirty on shift, imagine what kind of freaky shit she’s in to after she get off work.

  37. dwneylonsr says:

    This is old news. We’ve been doing that for years. (yes, years, I received my first ATM card in 1981) I’m just not sure I want someone else’s spit on my card.

  38. gomakemeasandwich says:


    A freak. A freak you’d want to marry. Think about it.

  39. gomakemeasandwich says:


    I heard you can get AIDS from cashier spit on credit cards. It’s true.

  40. bonzombiekitty says:

    Doesn’t bother me. When I was a cashier, I licked my fingers all the time to get the crappy plastic bags off the holder and separate bills. Some people get upset over something like that, but really – considering all the stuff I’ve handled throughout the day and how many hands money has gone through, my couple licked fingers is the least of your worries. It was actually more dangerous to me than you.

    Some cashiers would use wet paper towels or sponges instead of licking their fingers. Seems like a good idea, but in reality those sponges and paper towels are even better breeding grounds for germs.

    Really, I think we’re way too obsessed with germs. I’m a fairly clean person, but people freak out to much about that sort of thing. There’s anti bacterial EVERYTHING, and all it’s doing is just giving us stronger bacteria as a result.

  41. timmus says:

    Only in America does this matter. If someone complained in Bulgaria about this they’d be laughed out of the forum.

  42. gomakemeasandwich says:


    Fitting the growing problem of drug resistant bacteria in to a post about a customer using her spit to lube a credit card…I’m impressed.

  43. gomakemeasandwich says:


    Don’t be silly, no one has credit cards in Bulgaria. Or money.

  44. joellevand says:

    Clear tape also works very well. Put the tape over the magnetic strip, run your fingers over it a couple of times to make sure that there are no air bubbles, then swipe. Works 99% of the time!

  45. chrisjames says:

    @tande: It’s more like the bags, paper, etc help filter the signal noise when the magnetic particles start to smear. The licking helps too, but it also helps clean the strip a bit.

    Sitting on your credit cards all day won’t reduce the thickness much compared to the amount of wear it takes from swiping. Though, if it’s a cheap ass card, then some electronics or magnets that may be kept in or near a wallet can demagnetize it, even other credit cards can do it. But it takes time and the card has to be super cheap–not credit cards, more like those damned pass cards at Disney World that can’t seem to stay magnetized for a day.

  46. pestie says:

    @seamer: Uh, no. Static electricity does not demagnetize magnetic strips, or any other magnetic material. As for Ben’s comment that the static is what helps the card read, no, that’s not true, either.

    I can’t imagine why the bag trick works, but there seems to be a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to show that it does. I suspect it either has to do with a slight change in the magnetic flux level from having a few microns of extra space between the stripe and the reader head, or keeping the dirt on the stripe away from the reader head.

  47. gomakemeasandwich says:


    So you shoot down all of their ideas, but admit you have no idea why it works? I love it.

  48. pegr says:

    I’ve been waiting for this magic moment!

    music video: “Mr. Big Spenda” by Licky

    //double bonus points?

  49. bohemian says:

    @pestie: Enough magnetic pull will mess up your credit card. My hubby had some huge PA replacement speakers delivered to the house. I piled them up on the floor next to the dining room table where my bag was. Every card in my wallet started acting irratic or not at all. I had to get all of them replaced. The bank couldn’t even get the old ones to work.

  50. ChuckECheese says:

    I think it’s magic. The magic of cashier spittle. It overwhelms rational thought.

  51. ellastar says:

    @secretoftheeast: They don’t. The put everything in boxes. I don’t believe Costco has ever had plastic bags for groceries.

  52. wring says:

    @seamer: yes, this. more sanitary and guaranteed to work.

  53. Ragman says:

    Static electricity doesn’t generate a magnetic field – current does.

    Maybe the plastic acts as a polishing tape – like some of the old cassette cleaner tapes.

    So, it’s cute if a dog licks your card, but not a cashier? What if she’s cute?

  54. thalia says:

    Well, it worked, and at least you got your purchase. Although wouldn’t it have just been easier for her to take your card and type in the numbers manually?

  55. silencedotcom says:

    Costco + bags? I don’t remember them having bags around anywhere.. just boxes when I go.

  56. scokar says:

    I had this happen to me 3 years ago at a video game store. I think it was Electronics Boutique? Anyways, I was shopping for Christmas and the lady at the counter licked my card (without using her finger, directly with the tongue). I was so shocked by it that I didn’t say anything..

  57. TechnoDestructo says:

    The only time I ever had a card demagnetized, it was from leaning against the wrong wall in the physics department.

  58. @pestie: Ok, this I can answer. The plastic bag/clear tape/receipt paper trick works rather counterintuitively by making the card slightly harder to read, but in doing so improving the signal to noise ratio. The card swipe machine automatically increases its gain (effectively the volume it hears the card at as it is swiped) to compensate for the weaker signal. There’s a fair bit of inverse square law math and so forth involved in all this and my brain isn’t switched on sufficiently to explain it concisely here, but that’s how it works. Any thin, non-conductive film between the read head and the card will do the trick.

    That said, don’t ask me why licking them helps. I have no official answer for that question. Possibly the same reason, possibly not.

  59. chrisjames says:

    @Ragman: Static discharge is electric current, and can create a magnetic field. However, it’s nowhere near strong enough to demagnetize a credit card, at least not just from rubbing plastic bags over the strip. Rubbing the plastic bag is good to try and clean up the card without being too abrasive, which smears and makes things worse.

  60. Juggernaut says:

    @gomakemeasandwich: Did you ever see the picture from the Masters when the feminists protested? I’ve been trying to find it all day…

  61. theblackdog says:

    @secretoftheeast: They don’t. At least not at the store I have seen.

    The closest I have ever seen to any sort of a plastic bag that isn’t filled with a product is the bag that you put a dozen bagels in.

  62. TheBigLewinski says:

    Me thinks I’m going to Costco for a free lick.

  63. Scuba Steve says:

    mmm.. smells like BO..



    //Thank you next please

  64. jjason82 says:

    Costco doesn’t use plastic bags. Honestly, I don’t even think they use paper bags. I’ve been shopping there for years and I’ve always gotten my items in old product boxes. I have great respect for Costco doing this actually. No needless waste.

  65. octoSink says:

    Was Victoria A hot? I think this is a great story.

  66. Goutnout says:


    Saliva carries bacteria, better kept to yourself.

    Any cashier can manually enter the numbers and keep the transaction sanitary.

  67. dana278 says:

    It’s already been said several times, but scotch tape works every time for me.

    But about 50% of the time the customer looks at me like I’m going to take the dirty piece of tape (because it is always filthy) and magically steal their identity from them. Hell if I had the knowledge to do that I wouldn’t be standing behind a counter taking your credit card as payment for a $4 sandwich.

  68. Lucky225 says:

    if they would just use high-coercivity magstripes the problem would be solved, the 3 year exp date on CCs isn’t for your safety, it’s b/c it takes about 3 years, and then the LoCo stripe no longer works.

  69. Lucky225 says:


    Yea, Austin TX is banning paper bags now, I guess we can expect to see more licking stories in the future =)

  70. Lucky225 says:

    bleh, plastic bags, my mind is out of it’s self today.

  71. kyle4 says:

    At least she didn’t use her tongue. That would’ve been….interesting to say the least.

  72. gomakemeasandwich says:


    How would it have been easier? That makes no sense.

  73. gomakemeasandwich says:


    So do hands, counters and credit cards. Calm yourself.

  74. gomakemeasandwich says:


    LOL yes I have, although I don’t have the picture unfortunately…greatest picture ever.

    You might want to try ebaumsworld or for it. I’m sure one of them has it.

  75. gomakemeasandwich says:


    That’s so fucking hot…seriously.

  76. humphrmi says:

    @fumducket: Yeah but only if Kari does the licking.

  77. wesrubix says:

    @seamer: agreed. Static electricity is no friend to magnetic fields, especially the weak ones in credit cards and the like. If your card has trouble swiping, deal with the cashier having to punch in numbers, or order a new card.

  78. The Bambino says:

    I love it. If she HADN’T been able to get the card to work, there would have been a story about how the cashier was inept and didn’t do everything she could to help the consumer. LMAO at this stuff anymore.
    I can see the post now…”And this stupid unhelpful cashier didn’t even TRY to lick my card to make it work…”

  79. Ethel.Mertz says:

    Honey, know your customer! Most men would get a cheap thrill if you “worked” their credit card (or your lips or anything else for that matter). The same cannot be said for some ladies, especially the lady in this short video…

    Check out the bagger!

    SFW (don’t touch the volume as there is no audio)

  80. magic8ball says:

    OP says “I think Costco should have a policy about employee licking. What do you think?” I say, if Costco doesn’t already have a policy about whether I’m allowed to lick their employees, then I’m heading down to Costco right now before that changes.

  81. smackswell says:

    This is a solution for cards that are brand new or really old. I do it all the time. Wipe the card on my sleeve before I swipe it.

    Is it gross? Maybe. But I work in a place where I wash my hands nonstop, so it doesn’t really bother me. Honestly, I don’t know why it works so well. It just does. And I’m pretty sure no one is gonna die from my spit.

  82. lonesome.goat says:

    I worked at a Costco in Canada. We did not ever use plastic or paper bags, just old product boxes or straight back into the cart.

    We did regularly “clean” the debit machines with the cleaning cards, but some machines just had more difficulty reading cards than others. Different cashiers used different tricks. Some used receipt paper to encase the card, some would put a strip of till tape across the magnetic strip. I personally preferred to “heat up” the strip by rubbing it back and forth between two of my fingers, which seemed to work the best when the other two methods didn’t.

    Also, cashiers can’t put in card numbers manually. Supervisors can type in credit card numbers, but nobody can type in ATM card numbers.

  83. loueloui says:

    I don’t know about saliva, except maybe to clean the crud from the surface of the card, and make for better contect.

    However the plastic bag thing works because it increases the thickness of the card. There is a friction wheel on the opposite side of the magnetic reader to indicate the speed, and direction of the card swipe. After a few thousand swipes this wheel wears out, and no longer moves to indicate a card has been inserted. Putting something in this space closes the gap, and applies more pressure against the wheel.