You’ve probably seen people paying with their phones or watches, instead of using cards or cash. This type of payment is called a “contactless payment”. But despite the boring name, this is a great convenience and security upgrade that I think more people should try.
To make a contactless payment, you generally need a smartphone that features NFC. (Smartwatches and tablets may also allow for this!) On your phone, you’ll need to choose and install your contactless payment app. You have 3 choices:
Once you’ve chosen and installed your app, you’ll need to add at least one of your payment card’s info. Many cards are accepted into these apps, but there are some exceptions. If you find your credit card isn’t compatible with contactless payment apps, you can use a different card or talk to the card issuer for other options.
With a card accepted into your Pay app, you are ready to use it at any stores offering contactless payments. Keep an eye out for the universal symbol on storefront doors, windows and payment terminals to know where contactless payments are accepted.
The Security Benefit
I understand that some folks dismiss contactless payments as just a convenience item. “I don’t mind taking a card out of my pocket to pay!” is a common remark. But these Contactless Payments apps protect your account information in a significant way.
When you enroll a payment card into one of these Pay apps, your account number is not stored on your phone. The app builds a secure relationship with your bank, and every time you wave your phone at a reader to make a payment, a unique account number is created for that purchase only. That one-time number makes the transaction go through, and then can never be used again.
The benefit to this is that your true card number is never out in the wild. Criminals have all kinds of tactics for learning your card information, so they can place fraudulent charges. Contactless payment apps defeat a lot of them:
- If you use Android Pay at a compromised gas pump, the hidden credit card skimmer captures a useless number from you.
- Let’s say you use Apple Pay at the grocery store, and their servers are hacked the following week. The criminals may get other people’s credit card information, but not yours.
- If you’re on public Wi-Fi and need to buy something over the internet, using Google Pay or Apple Pay (through your computer) would prevent your true card number from being seen in transmission.
It is true that bank cards in your wallet could still be skimmed and stolen, wirelessly. To help prevent that, I can recommend you also use a RFID-blocking wallet. You can find them as low as $20 on Amazon!
If you use Contactless Payments, you’ll have to have a screen-lock on your phone. Because otherwise, someone could steal your phone and start buying things with it! As you set up a contactless payment app, it will check and tell you if your phone’s security needs to be improved.
Contactless Payments are not universally accepted (yet). Some stores may not accept them, because it requires newer card-reading equipment, or because it would increase their card-processing fees. But over time, this technology should become more and more widely adopted. Just keep an eye out for the contactless payment symbol, or branded symbols for Google, Apple and Samsung.