Visa And Mastercard Push Chip Card Deadline For Gas Pumps Back To 2020

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Americans get to face another three years at higher risk of having our payment card numbers scooped up by criminals while we fuel up our cars. The major credit card networks, Visa and Mastercard, have given gas stations an extension, pushing the deadline for them to install payment terminals with chip (EMV) readers back to October 2020.

You’re probably a big fan of payment system liability shifts, but let’s review anyway: the United States was one of the few countries still using magnetic strips on our payment cards, and decided to join the rest of the world.

The system is called EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa) and has been in use for decades. Instead of a magnetic strip, the cards use a microchip that makes it harder for crooks to intercept payment card numbers, and impossible to buy credit cards online and create cloned cards.

Since this meant retailers and banks needed to buy new equipment that can read the chip-equipped cards, the card networks set a series of deadlines. The deadline for retail points of sale was in October 2015, for ATMs was October 2016, and for gas station pay-at-the-pump terminals was supposed to be October 2017.

After these deadlines, liability for fraudulent transactions would fall on the merchant still using an old payment terminal, not on the bank that issued the credit or debit card. That doesn’t affect consumers all that much, but it definitely affects retailers, some of which have sued card issuers over the delay in certifying those new payment systems that they had to install.

What does all of this have to do with gas stations? Gas pumps are fantastic targets for card skimmers, devices that capture customers’ card numbers as they’re swiped through the magnetic reader, since they aren’t in the direct view of a cashier, and they get lots of traffic. Security reporter Brian Krebs notes that gas station skimmer attacks have increased this year, perhaps because chip cards and readers are finally becoming prevalent. They’ve been especially plentiful in Arizona this year.

Here’s the problem, if you’re a gas station owner: those pay-at-the pump terminals are really expensive. That’s why the payment networks announced this week that they’re giving gas stations an additional three years to get new equipment.

Retrofitting some stations with older equipment is more complicated than swapping in a new card reader. “In some cases, older pumps may need to be replaced before adding chip readers, requiring specialized vendors and breaking into concrete,” Visa noted in a statement.

What all of this means is that it’s going to be a good idea for a while still to use a credit card rather than a debit card at the gas pump. If a scammer gets hold of your debit card number, they can drain your checking account and cause financial havoc as all of your payments bounce. Using a credit card leaves you with a bit of breathing room in case of suspicious transactions.

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