In 2011, fewer than half of the population were able to identify the universal contactless symbol or explain what it means. Research conducted last year showed that 84% of the public now knew what the symbol was, with consumers in London and the North West leading the way. The study also highlighted a shift in preferences, with 61% of shoppers saying they preferred to use cards over cash when making small purchases.
Contactless payments can now be used in over 100,000 locations across the UK, from supermarkets and newsagents to coffee shops and pubs. The number of outlets embracing contactless is growing all the time and, with 48 countries worldwide accepting contactless payments, this way of spending does appear to be the future. Contactless payments aren’t just restricted to cards, and some mobile phone providers have also included the technology on their phones.
The major issue that initially slowed the take-up rate of contactless technology was a perception that it wasn’t secure. So how are contactless credit cards explained and how safe are they to use?
Contactless payments allow you to make a small purchase (currently £20 or less) without entering your PIN or supplying a signature. You simply hold the card up to the contactless payment reader, which is easily identified by the contactless ‘wave’ symbol. When the light goes green, that’s it. The technology works via a chip and a radio frequency antenna. These transmit your details wirelessly to the reader, which records the transaction details. If your purchase is more than £20 you will simply be asked to enter your PIN as you usually would.
Some people feared that simply walking past a reader might be enough to trigger a payment. In reality the card needs to be held steadily very close to the reader so there’s no danger that you might accidentally pay for somebody else’s transaction merely by being in the same vicinity.
As far as security goes, you will occasionally be asked to provide your PIN and complete a transaction that way. This is a normal part of security and you shouldn’t be worried or embarrassed if you are asked to do this. If you do lose or have your card stolen you should report the loss to your bank or card issuer as soon as possible. As long as you have not been negligent with your card, you should be covered for any losses caused by fraudulent transactions.