Your questions about contactless answered

Andy Webb 23 June 2021

Not everyone has welcomed the arrival of contactless with open arms. Our money expert is here to lay your concerns to rest 

Contactless cards are being used more and more, with two-thirds of debit card transactions made via a quick tap. And with the payment limit increased from £45 to £100, use is likely to keep growing.

And with people using cash less due to the pandemic it’s never been easier to spend with your debit or credit card without entering a PIN. But does this boon for convenience have any downsides?

Here’s what you need to know about using your contactless cards and devices, and just how safe they are.

How contactless works?

You’ll know if your card is contactless thanks to a universal symbol of four curved lines (it’s similar to the wi-fi symbol). This same icon indicates that the retailer or business you’re at accepts contactless payments.

Embedded in each contactless card is a chip which uses radio frequencies to communicate with near-field communication (NFC) technology. So tap your card on a reader and they can talk to each other to process the payment.

"In fact you don’t even need to tap the card"

In fact you don’t even need to tap the card. It just needs to be within a few centimeters of the reader to connect. Within a few seconds you’ll get confirmation that the transaction has gone through (or hasn’t) and that’s it.

The same chip technology can also be found on things like phones and smart watches which can be used to pay in the same way if they are connected to your bank cards.

Thes sometimes have no upper limit as you’ll need to use biometrics such as your fingerprint or a face scan to approve the purchase.

Contactless

Why does contactless not always work?

Though the limit on these cards is now a huge £100, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have to enter your PIN. Regulations require retailers to ask for the PIN after you’ve spent a cumulative total of £300 on the card or made five separate transactions.

This is also probably why your transactions are rejected from time to time, rather than you not having enough money in your account. If it does happen you simply need to enter your card and type in the PIN to approve the purchase.

This not only limits any potential fraud (more on this in a bit), but it’ll means you’re less likely to forget your number!

"Though the limit on these cards is now a huge £100, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have to enter your PIN"

Can scammers use contactless to steal your money?

In theory a crook with a card reader who was close enough to you and your card would be able to take money from your card or skim your card details. However, there’s no record of this actually ever happening, and there are so many conditions that would have to be in place for it to work that it’s incredibly unlikely.

However, if you were to lose your card or it was stolen then payments could be made. And you could argue that it’s more tempting for thieves to target purses and wallets now that they can use them for more expensive transactions.

However any fraudulent use would be restricted by that £300 total. And you’d get that money refunded by your bank as long as you’ve reported the card missing and you didn’t do something deemed negligent such as willingly giving your card to someone to use.

"Always check the total on the contactless reader before tapping"

Though you’d most likely notice if someone has stolen your card, it’s important to check your bank statements regularly to ensure there aren’t any transactions you didn’t authorise.

Mistakes can happen too, say if the person charging you accidentally typed in the wrong amount. Always check the total on the contactless reader before tapping. Asking for receipts after purchase will also help you check you’ve not been overcharged.

If you are still worried about skimming happening you could line your purse with some foil, or buy a RFID-blocking wallet or card. Either should stop the signals from and to your cards. However the benefit of these is really just to put your mind at ease as it’s incredibly unlikely they’d ever be required to do their intended task.

Can you refuse a contactless card?

Most banks and credit card companies issue contactless cards as standard. If you don’t want this feature you’ll have to request a new card, though there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get one.

Many banks are now adding a feature to their mobile apps that allow you to turn off the contactless feature, and there’s talk that some will introduce the ability for you to lower the upper transaction limit if you’d rather it be less than £100.

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