How EMV Cards Offer Smarter Security

The credit cards in your wallet are going to be getting smarter. Instead of featuring a strip of magnetic tape that holds your account information, many new cards have a metallic-colored square, typically on the front. Under this square is a computer chip that contains your financial data and automatically generates security codes to help keep your information more secure.

The technology is known as EMV, named after Europay, MasterCard and Visa, the companies that developed it. These cards are also called smart cards or chip cards because of their advanced security features. The next time you get a new credit card, it just might have an EMV chip on it.

A global standard

Originating in Europe in the 1990s, EMV cards are now the standard in Europe, Asia and Latin America. The U.S. is the last major country to transition from magnetic strip cards to those with chips, but a good number of consumers and merchants are already making the shift. According to the not-for-profit Smart Card Alliance, about half of all U.S. merchants may have EMV-equipped checkout registers by the end of the year.

Institutions like FirstBank are sharing information about this technology with customers as a way to help answer questions about security, and cardholders are taking advantage. The Smart Card Alliance estimates that as many as 600 million chip-enabled credit cards will have been issued by the end of the year.

How EMV cards can protect you

The magnetic strip on the back of a regular credit card contains your account data in an easily readable format. If criminals get access to this information, they can copy it and use it to make counterfeit credit cards. Many fraudsters have done just that, using account data copied by hackers who, for instance, may attach small “skimmer” devices to ATM machines and other card readers to capture the data on the tape strip from unsuspecting card users.

But EMV chips can’t be copied in the same way, or in practically any other way. The technology encrypts, or scrambles, your account information and produces a unique one-time code each time the card is used. Since the information on the card changes with every transaction, it’s virtually impossible to make a counterfeit. Even if there’s a data breach, there’s less of a chance that a criminal could copy your EMV card and use it.

How to use EMV cards

The process of paying for an item with an EMV card is only slightly different than with a regular credit card. Instead of swiping the card’s magnetic strip through a reader, you’d typically “dip” an EMV card into the reader and keep it in the slot until the transaction is complete. Other EMVs even have contactless technology that will let you hold your card a few inches away from the terminal to send your payment information wirelessly.

EMV Process

Many EMV cards are known as chip-and-signature cards: They require you to verify a transaction with your signature, similar to how regular credit cards work. But some EMVs, known as chip-and-PIN, require you to enter a personal identification number, or PIN, to verify each transaction. Either route offers more security at the mall and ATMs than using conventional cards.

Magnetic strips will soon begin to give way to EMV computer chips on your favorite credit cards. This process is already underway here at FirstBank. We’ve replaced our credit cards with EMV chip cards and are currently rolling out EMV chip debit cards. If you are a FirstBank Debit or ATM cardholder, you will automatically receive an EMV card to replace your existing card soon. With EMV technology, you can continue to shop with the convenience a regular credit card offers, but feel confident knowing your financial information is more secure and less likely to be breached.

Content provided by Margarette Burnette, NerdWallet

8 comments on “How EMV Cards Offer Smarter Security

    • Great question Jeff! All EMV cards will still have a magnetic strip on the back so you can process a transaction by swiping the card the traditional way. However, there is a deadline set for October 2015 for U.S. merchants to adopt EMV-equipped registers. After this deadline passes and fraud occurs the liability will shift to the merchant for not having the EMV-equipped registers rather then residing with the bank or card issuer. As long as the bank or card issuer are offer EMV equipped cards.

    • Hi Linda, thanks for the comment. The EMV chip cards we issue here at FirstBank are chip & signature based cards. If you’d like to have a PIN number for your FirstBank EMV Credit Card please give us a call at 1.800.964.3444 and we’ll get you set up with one.

      Also, note that the merchant you use your card at will need to have their terminals setup to process a transaction with a PIN, in order for you to use your Credit Card that way.

    • Hi Dan,
      Appreciate you reaching out and good question. We currently offer the EMV chip-enabled debit cards. You can call us at (800) 964-3444 if you wish to order one immediately or request one at your local branch. We are also in the process of distributing all chip-enabled credit and debit cards to our existing customers, which should be received by June 2016.

      Please let us know if you have any other questions.

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