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Contactless payments: safe, clean transactions during COVID

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Greg Mahnken

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the nation, stores and shopping in general have had to adjust. For businesses that decide to reopen, customers and employees are provided with safety measures such as masks, plexiglass shields, and more sanitary forms of payments.

According to a recent CNBC article, electric payments are considered more appealing as cash can be linked to being dirty and associated with coronavirus. Any customers and employees in checkout lines want to prevent the touching of commonly shared surfaces like cash, credit cards, and card readers. A contactless credit card and enabled reader is a great solution to this.

What are contactless payments?

Contactless payments use radio frequency identification or near-field communication technology in mobile wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay and contactless credit and debit cards.

Contactless payments are convenient to shoppers as they can be used without swiping or “dipping” your chipped credit card into frequently used card readers. This also reduces the number of touch-points required to complete a checkout; no PIN or signature is required in most cases. Merchants that have upgraded card readers in the last few years to accept EMV chip cards likely have the capability to accept contactless payments.

Contactless credit cards, also known as “tap to pay” cards, are becoming increasingly more popular and common in the United States. These cards use the embedded chip to wirelessly transmit the payment information. Many popular credit card issuers along with local banks and credit unions have started to include these features on newer and upgraded cards.

Mobile wallets can be convenient because shoppers are able to turn almost any credit or debit card into a contactless payment method. In the Google Pay or Apple Pay app, enter your payment information in and it will be automatically stored securely. Mobile wallets provide access to all saved cards in case customers forgot their wallets at home or want to carry cards on them at all times.

Mobile payments are considered to be secure due to the fact that your phone never broadcasts actual payment details. If a thief were to intercept a phone’s payment, the information is unlikely to be useful.

How do you use a contactless card?

Contactless cards will be marked with the Contactless Symbol on the back or front of your card. Many people think this symbol looks very similar to the Wi-Fi symbol. Sorry to say, credit and debit cards don’t offer Wi-Fi (yet). If your card has this symbol, simply hold your card above the reader. For mobile wallets, the way to activate and pay depends on the phone, but you’ll usually need to input a fingerprint or Face ID on your phone to push the transaction through.

If there’s worry that a merchant doesn’t have a contactless payment system, all contactless cards are just like regular credit and debit cards. They can be used anywhere your card is accepted, including online or over the phone.

Why should I care about contactless?

Unfortunately, in this current climate where every surface increases a risk for infection, reducing the number of commonly shared surfaces in your store can help keep both employees and customers safe and bring peace of mind. Encouraging contactless payments through smartphone or card results in the reduction of people touching the card reader screen, stylus, and PIN pad. Most contactless payments are able to complete a transaction without any other input to the card reader. Of course, if you have other inputs on your machine, such as a phone number for a rewards program, you may be able to disable these prompts or encourage employees to input information on their end, instead of having the customer use the card reader.

Contactless payments are processed more quickly than EMV chip transactions, which can be seen as an advantage in order to move lines along at a faster pace at a time when many businesses have implemented cleaning procedures between customers.

Greg Mahnken is a credit industry analyst for Credit Card Insider. He specializes in topics such as security and fraud prevention, responsible credit use, and credit for beginners. Credit Card Insider is a consumer education website offering unbiased credit card reviews, a Credit Insider Academy, and detailed blog posts on a variety of credit topics.

About Greg Mahnken