Q: What’s quick, easy and stays inside your wallet? A: A ‘contactless’ card. But what happens when it’s too quick and easy and you end up using this payment without even choosing to? That’s what happened to me…
A few days ago, I bought something by accident.
I don’t mean that I walked into a shop for a pair of tights and walked out with a handbag (although it’s happened before!). This was something I actively paid for using my credit card but without realising I’d done so.
How contactless payments work
It was all thanks to a newfangled technology that enables ‘contactless payment’ just by tapping your card on a reader. It’s built into many newly-issued credit cards – like my new Barclaycard – and even some mobile phones. And I managed to use it without any intention of doing so in a branch of Boots.
To be fair, I had every intention of buying the item in question (some £5 make up) and had taken it up to the till. The shop assistant had scanned the item and I was ready to pay – I’d even taken out my credit card and popped it in the card machine ready to enter my Pin.
That’s where things got confusing. I can’t quite remember if I got round to entering my Pin or not, but the next thing I knew it was telling me the card attempt had been cancelled. Some electronic error, I assumed, and was all set to try again when the assistant thanked me and handed me my receipt.
When I mumbled something about payment cancellations, she reassured me that all was well – I’d paid by contactless payment. Despite her reassuring tone, I felt a little perturbed.
Contactless payment protections
When I asked a chap at Barclaycard’s press office about my experience, he said that the contactless payment pad is generally entirely separate from the Chip and Pin machine, but perhaps Boots used a different system.
He reassured me that you can’t pay for items costing more than £15 without entering your Pin, and that we have the same fraud protection for contactless payments as ‘normal’ credit card payments.
He did acknowledge, though, that there was a risk of some payments being made without the customer realising, just by holding an enabled card too close to a reader (the contactless payment zone is between 4-10cm from the reader).
The future of payments?
I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill here. After all, I wanted the item, and I wanted to pay with my Barclaycard – both of which I achieved. But I was thrown by the fact that I’d managed to pay in this way without even realising it was an option (I didn’t spot any signs about contactless payment anywhere near the till).
I’ve got nothing against contactless payment per se – so if I’d known about, and chosen to pay by, Boots’ contactless payment option I’d have had no problem.
Perhaps, as contactless payment devices and the places that accept them become more widespread, most of us will be tapping our cards (or mobiles) on readers without a care in the world. But until then, I for one would welcome a few notices up in stores so I know not to wave my wallet around too much.