US risks becoming a global centre for card fraud warns senior Fed staffer

US risks becoming a global centre for card fraud warns senior Fed staffer

A senior official at the US Federal Reserve has expressed alarm that the country is being left isolated by its reliance on mag-stripe cards while the rest of the world moves to more secure EMV-based Chip and PIN payment technology.

Writing on the Portals and Rail blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, executive vice president Richard Oliver says that the US risks becoming the only substantial economic power dependent on a payments standard that is less secure than that of the rest of the world.

"That means that criminals, intent on profiting from card fraud, will continue to migrate to the United States in growing numbers," says Oliver, who is also responsible for managing the Fed's cheque and ACH businesses nationwide.

The US reluctance to move away from mag-stripe technology is also becoming a major inconvenience for US citizens travelling abroad. Oliver points to research from analyst house Aite that suggests that as many as 10 million US travellers experienced difficulties with incompatible card technologies when on foreign soil during the past year.

Equally, EMV-standard chips are at the centre of emerging moves towards more secure and user-friendly mobile payment systems.

Says Oliver: "Chips embedded in the phone, coupled with applications loaded on the phone from card-issuing banks, will create the effect of a "mobile wallet" that promises to be more convenient and, yes, more secure than what we use today."

But with merchants unlikely to volunteer to shoulder the cost of upgrading the six million or so terminal devices in use in the US, it may be necessary to escalate the issue to the public policy level, says Oliver.

"If we want to mitigate the possibility of the United States being a centre of card fraud and enable our consumers and business folks to travel abroad more easily, it may be time to charge someone in government with developing a well-thought-out, participatory, multi-year plan to move this country to the emerging global payments card standard," he concludes.

Comments: (3)

Nick Green
Nick Green - ISD Consultants - Northampton 20 July, 2010, 19:09Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

At last it begins to dawn! What seems to be missed is that many of the "6 million or so" devices have already been upgraded (well hardware at least) as the main terminal vendors have been deploying 'standard product' with a chip card reader  globally for a number of years. By deploying EMV the need for expensive and hard to manage end to end encryption becomes less attractive.

I've said it before "Resistance is Futile - You will comply".

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 July, 2010, 18:15Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I agree 100% with Richard's assesment.  It is obvious by the lack of any action or even constructive discussion from the U.S. issuers on the subject of changing the US payments infrastructure away from magnetic stripe that it is going to take the government to assert itself in a more direct way.  The Fed has responsibility to see that the U.S. market does not become a haven for global fraud.  Acting on behalf of the consumers who are getting their cards rejected when they travel internationally and replaced 2 and 3 times during their normal life because of suspected or real data breaches as well as the merchants who are seeing an increasing amount of fraud hitting them that is being exported from Europe, Latin America, and Canada, this is an appropriate role for the Fed to play.  I give the Fed credit for taking the initiative to get up to speed on the technology and business issues with moving to NFC mobile payments. The Fed officials are realizing that the fundamental weaknesses of static data on mag stripe cards needs to be addressed at the same time.  Now is the time  for the issuers and mobile operators and the payments brands to show they can be good corporate citizens and voluntarily join in the Fed's efforts to address fraud and accelerate secure NFC mobile payments.  Isn't that better than being represented as the bad guys in public and by government regulators?   We need more collaboration among all the stakeholders and less stalling.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 26 July, 2010, 18:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

If or when EMV does take off in the States, the good news is that the U.S. is ready for it in some respects. The smart card technology infrastructure that supports EMV or Chip and PIN is already available today in the U.S. and will even be able to evolve with chip-based card innovations such as the "mobile wallet" Richard Oliver references. In the next three to five years, we will likely see a proliferation of smart chip, user-friendly payment token form factors. As this generation of tech-savvy, convenience-oriented high school and college-aged consumers get out into the world, they will start pushing for innovative products that work in conjunction with everyday gadgets such as mobile devices. Without a doubt, EMV adoption in the U.S. would be complex and costly, but the pain of this transition should be eased by the fact that its smart card-based infrastructure can be leveraged to support future chip-enabled payment forms, which are inevitable.