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Contactless payment cards – are you a sceptic?

NatWest debit card with contactless symbol

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, contactless cards are going to become increasingly common. According to the UK Cards Association, 33m have been issued and 6.8m contactless transactions are made each month.

A growing number of big retailers are also accepting contactless. For example, Waitrose expects to have contactless terminals in all of its stores by the end of this month. Other brands, such as Pret a Manger and Boots, already have them in all their stores.

And it’s not just big companies. Several times over the past few months I’ve been able to pay contactlessly when grabbing some drinks in the pub or buying a cheeky chocolate bar. And from next year it will be possible to use contactless cards to pay for all London transport journeys.

So, contactless debit and credit cards are clearly taking over, but are you wary of them?

Contactless card concerns

I must admit that I had my reservations when I received my contactless card in the post. After all, I thought, how much effort and time will it really save? But it’s so quick and easy that I’m a complete convert – I now find it frustrating when I’m not able to pay contactlessly.

I did initially have concerns about security. For instance, what if my card’s stolen? Well, each of the main card issuers told us that after a few transactions the user would be prompted for a Pin to prevent a fraudster running up a big bill. And our research suggests that a thief would only be able to spend £45-£100 before being asked to type in a Pin.

And providing you report the loss quickly you should receive a refund from your bank. In theory you could be liable for the first £50, but in practice banks are unlikely to charge you this.

Another issue is the possibility of ‘data leakage’ from the card. Researchers have shown that it’s possible to get some details, such as your card number and expiry date, by enabling a mobile phone to act as a card reader. Although this wouldn’t be enough to clone the card, it may be enough to make online purchases on sites that don’t ask for the CVV number (the last three digits on the back of your card).

Still, it has to be said that so far there isn’t any evidence that contactless card fraud is a problem. However, this kind of fraud may become more appealing. We’d like banks and card providers to remain vigilant and take action if there’s evidence of fraudsters exploiting security loopholes.

Should you be able to opt-out?

While I’m happy with my contactless card, I know others would prefer not to have one.

When we spoke to 10 of the biggest debit card providers in the UK, we found that most banks now issue them as standard to new customers and also for card renewals. Only Nationwide has no current plans to issue contactless cards, with Santander planning to start issuing them in the final months of this year.

But most banks will also let you opt-out of having a contactless debit card if you don’t want it one. Out of the banks that have issued them only the Co-operative Bank told us it wouldn’t let you opt-out.

The situation is a bit different with credit cards. Out of 10 of the biggest providers in the UK half issue contactless credit cards – Amazon, American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One and MBNA – and none of them offer the option to opt-out. Barclaycard, the biggest credit card provider in the UK, told us that it would be happy to offer a non-contactless card if there was demand, but they haven’t experienced this.

In our survey, 83% of Which? members told us they think you should be able to opt-out of having a contactless card if you don’t want one. We think consumer choice is important and people should be able to opt-out of having a contactless card if they don’t want one.

What do you think – are you happy to have a contactless card or would you prefer to opt-out? Have you asked to opt-out and been refused?

Should you be able to opt-out of contactless payment cards?

Yes (92%, 613 Votes)

I don't know (5%, 33 Votes)

No (3%, 19 Votes)

Total Voters: 665

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I received a replacement Barclaycard in August and it contained the contactless payment feature, in spite of me having emailed them specifically to request one without.

I do not intend to use this card and have switched to another provider who does provide non-contactless credit cards. I write this with some regret – I have used Barclaycard as my main credit card for over 40 years. However there is a good reason why I do not wish to use a contactless card – they are not secure.
A few weeks before I was shopping in a well-known high street shop. The cost was about £12 but I was short of cash, so I went to get my non-contactless Barclays debit card out of my wallet. The girl on the till told me not to bother since my payment had already been taken contactlessly. I demanded how that was possible – it turns out that my wallet had been close enough to the contactless card reader to take payment without any volition or control on my part. It seems that my current Barclaycard was contactless, which I was not aware of. If a reader can take payment like that, with no active choice on my part, then I want nothing to do with this insecure technology. The shop cancelled the transaction and I paid cash.
I wrote to Barclays again and strongly suggested they take notice of this and re-introduce choice, if they did not want to lose long-standing, loyal customers like me. I invited them to reconsider their restrictive decision to ignore customer demand. I received a letter saying they would look into my complaint. Three months later, after a number of increasingly impatient reminders from me, I finally got an response that basically told me they were not going to take any notice.
So I cut up the new cards and am perfectly happy using my Nationwide non-contactless credit card. The only ways to fight this contemptuous attitude that some banks have to their customers are to take your custom elsewhere and to raise the profile of this issue through organisations like Which.

B Townsend says:
27 December 2014

I am a serving professional in the electronics industry, involved in hardware and software design, with further history in security.

Unlike the usual rhetoric peddled by the contactless proponents, I have learned to think laterally when it comes to security. Not only has the issue of uncontrolled contactless payments when abroad not been sufficiently covered and clarified, but there is another aspect to having a contactless card about your person…

The criminal fraternity are very resourceful, and the internet has made inexpensive project electronics, parts, and tools highly accessible.

If you have such a card on your person, few consider the implications of thieves simply scanning for the presence of such cards about your person, in pockets, luggage, bags, etc. If a generic signal is created, you can have all the data cryptography you like but the mere fact that a card has responded alerts the perpetrator that you have credit cards on you – even locatable to the pocket or bag where it is kept. Furthermore, as cards are typically kept in wallets with cash and other desirables to the thief, the mere presence of *any* card response allows the perpetrator to surreptitiously identify their targets.

Creating such a device to do this is relatively simple and inexpensive, and I’m entirely confident that any known instances of this means of attack will remain concealed from public scrutiny.

NO! I do not need or want such cards, and will be changing my bank (if that’s what it takes) to another that affords customers this option. Time-permitting, I am also considering an informational YouTube video demonstrating this – to ensure the public are appropriately informed.

Steve says:
2 January 2015

Barclaycard have just refused to remove the contactless feature from my credit card, so I have closed the account. I have been a Barclaycard customer for 30 years.

Barclays have told me that I can have a non-contactless debit card, but they won’t process my request over the phone or online. I have to visit the branch. Quite ironic really that they turned this insecure system on without my permission, but need to see me in person to switch it off for security reasons !!!!

If the bank clerk gives me the hard sell, I am closing this account and moving to Nationwide.

Cruz says:
6 February 2015

I requested a new card from Santander as my old one was damaged. When it arrived it had the contactless symbol on it. So I rang again to cancel it and ordered a standard card.

Why is it was are always opted in and have to do all the faffing about to opt out? If someone wants contactless then let them ask for it.

Alternatively allow ATM’s have the facility to activate and de-activate the chip?

Oh yes and they tried to flog me a credit card too. *rolleyes*

At least Santander will give you a non-contactless card if you ask for one. Barclaycard are completely resolute in refusing to give at least this customer what I wanted, so I switched to Nationwide.

David says:
6 February 2015

I went into a pub in London and was holding my card to pay. The barman said that there was no need to take my card as it was already paid for by contact. He then made a big fuss when I asked for a receipt as it was too much hassle. I don’t trust the banks and I don’t trust anyone now at tills. You can’t even make complaints any more as the big companies make it too difficult to. Its one big slippery slope.

Ken Gregory says:
3 March 2015

Nationwide have now started issuing these infernal cards, but they say that they will have an opt out facility by April ! We shall see!

philblack says:
14 October 2015

The y will control your bank account completely, the next step is to do away with cash, and be able to control you account and be able to limit your withdrawal when they see fit. be warned

I have been issued with replacement credit cards by MBNA and they are contactless. I rang MBNA and they do not supply non-contactless cards.
When I received contactless replacement debit cards from Santander, they promptly changed them to non-contactless cards on request.

I have opted out of a debit card as I do not like the technologies inherent risk.
However I am now left not being able to use the fast pay service at the petrol stations which does bug me.
My previous non contactless card allowed this if using a pin at pump so I feel its a step back – I feel like a second class citizen.
I am now horrified that my bank will be issuing me a contactless credit card come my renewal and I can not opt out of it. What do I do cancel my cards and look for a bank that will honour my wishes and concerns. I just don’t know?

Alan says:
23 January 2019

I’ve been with the Coop for 30yrs plus. I’ve requested online, a change to a non contactless debit card which according to the website should go through. However it states that credit cards cannot be changed to non contactless. Can anyone recommend a Credt Card that is non contactless?