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Will you be forced to use a contactless card?

Barclays contactless debit card

Banks are apparently forcing so-called ‘contactless’ cards on customers. These let shoppers spend with a simple swipe, but is this actually how we want to squander our money – and are banks downplaying the risks?

From previous Conversations it’s clear that many of you aren’t convinced by a cashless society, but it’s creeping up on us whether we like it or not.

Debit card spending overtook cash for the first time last year, and with contactless technology banks appear to be trying their utmost to speed up the process.

All new cards from Barclays, Virgin Money and the Bank of America will now be ‘contactless’ – this lets us pay for transactions under £15 without the need to enter a pin. Think of the London Underground’s Oyster Cards and you’re half way there – these cards just happen to be wired directly into our bank accounts.

How secure are contactless cards?

The banks secure contactless cards by only allowing a small number of daily transactions, up to £50, before a pin number is requested. However, many customers aren’t convinced, believing that thieves could steal up to 50 quid even though they couldn’t get hold of all the cash in their account.

In retaliation, banks have tried to assure that any money lost to fraudulent activity would be refunded straightaway, but would you be willing to take the risk?

There are already 12 million contactless cards in circulation, and they’re accepted in shops like EAT, Co-operative and Ikea. Both HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland are running trials before they decide to follow suit, and Lloyds TSB is also weighing up the pros and cons.

Should we be made to go contactless?

But do we want them, and should banks be forcing them upon us? Which? Conversation commenter Sophie Gilbert isn’t interested in contactless tech:

‘I can safely assert that if my bank decides to compulsorily issue me with such a card I will never use it for purchases under £15, and this is what I’ll tell my bank if someone nicks my card and decides to make a string of purchases under £15.’

But Mark Austin, who heads up the development of contactless technology at Visa, says that the cards are much safer than using cash:

‘When you lose a £10 note, it’s gone. There’s usually no way to get it back. But if you lose a contactless card, you are protected by fraud protection and when you alert your bank they’ll refund any money lost.’

Which? Convo reader Peter Partington is a convert, telling us that he can’t wait: ‘Bring it on! I thought of this idea a few years ago as I hate waiting in long queues at the check out.’

So should we just grin and bear the onslaught of contactless technology, or should we be given a choice? Do you think the banks are playing down the potential security risks of the technology, or are you happy to swipe and pay?


You are lucky. I can’t get the Halifax to replace my new contactless card. This is the sort of consumer issue Which should be fighting hard on, but they are useless. They are just another company making money out of us like the other financial brokers.

Gerry says:
9 May 2015

The Halifax will issue non-contactless cards, but only if you make enough fuss.

When the chip on my non-contactless card failed, the Halifax replaced it (slowly) with a contactless one. I had to escalate it but eventually they agreed and sent a non-contactless card.

Just show them you mean business, e.g. threaten that you’ll close all your accounts and complain to the Banking Ombudsman. If the Ombudsman investigates it will cost them £500, so the bank will soon realise that it’s far cheaper to issue the card that the customer wants !

Spent about an hour on the phone raising official complaint to Halifax last week with no progress. Next step Ombudsman – they really tried to con me into not making the compalint official.

So much for their security – a friend said they had card in hand waiting to pay at checkout and cashier said thanks you have already paid. They did not even know card was contactless!

Gerry says:
20 July 2015

Unfortunately the Banking Ombudsman is a total waste of space. They rejected my complaint about being forced to have a contactless card, basically saying that the bank had done nothing wrong, and it was a case of Like It Or Lump It.

Hardly surprising I suppose: after all, the Baking Ombudsman is funded by the banks, so they just have a very cosy relationship dancing to their paymasters’ tunes.

This is a case of the bank tail wagging the customer dog. Businesses like contactless and it has been developed with them in mind. It’s easier for them and collectively they probably pay banks way more in merchant fees than ordinary consumers do in interest / charges. Still people should continue to vote with their feet. There are still plenty of banks out there offering chip and pin so I’ll keep moving my business and if I have to, I’ll use the hole punch method. When will they learn, the customer is always right ?

There’s a very easy way to disable the contactless feature, which works by incorporating a loop aerial round the edge of the card. This is energised by the card reader using a magnetic field, which then supplies power to the chip. Clearly a clever ‘digital pickpocket’ could devise a reader and use it on a large number of cards in a crowded area, such as on a Tube train in the rush hour.

The aerial is embedded within the card, about 3mm from the edge. All you need to do is cut this loop: the easiest way is to cut about 8mm off one corner of the card. It is important not to damage the chip or magnetic stripe: view the card with the 16-digit (Amex uses 15 digits) number the right way up. The chip should be towards the left and the mag. stripe across the top on the other side. Cut off the BOTTOM RIGHT corner, preferably using anvil shears – it is important to leave a clean cut so the card won’t jam in an ATM. If you are successful, you will see two shiny metal dots on the cut edge: these are part of the loop, which you have now broken. Tidy up the cut if necessary with fine sandpaper.

Follow up to my post above: Although my Nationwide card has a loop that goes almost to the edge, I was not successful ‘decontacting’ my Barclays Amex or Lloyds debit cards. These were issued later: neither has a loop that goes to the edge – so it seems card issuers are now making the loop smaller, which would require a card to be nearer to a reader. Moreover, a Lloyds ATM swallowed my Lloyds card without putting any error message on the display. Fortunately the bank was open: the clerk retrieved my card and said the machine had detected the missing corner and ‘confiscated’ it. He has ordered a replacement card (non-contactless at my request), so Lloyds is one bank that will do this. I had previously used the card in a shop terminal with no problem.

So, the bottom line is *don’t* try what I suggested above on a card that will be used in an ATM, though it might still be worth doing it to a credit card that was issued when contactless first became available, if it will never be used in an ATM, since shop readers don’t object.

There are several references on the web about ‘decontactlessing’ a card, such as this: http://smilecontactless.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/how-to-disable-contactless-technology.html
but they all mutilate the card in some way, risking problems with ATMs.

*Finally* found a way of disabling contactless on my Amex:

1) Lay the card on a smooth flat surface with the signature strip side uppermost and the chip to the right (the security number will be in the strip and the right way up).

2) Make a horizontal cut 5mm long, starting at 25mm from the card right edge, going towards the signature strip. This should align with the centre of the signature strip. Always cut away from the chip in case you cut too far and damage it. Repeat until you see the result as a white line on the other side of the card (it is inadvisable to go right through).

The loop aerial goes to the top and left of the chip as viewed (see the x-ray image on http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/145461/design-of-an-electronic-device-to-disable-remote-access-ability-of-contactless-p – note: this is viewed from the front of the card).

Some advice given elsewhere suggests holding the card to a bright light to reveal the aerial. This didn’t work on my Amex, which is black and opaque.

3) Turn the card over and smooth over the white line with a screwdriver handle or similar. It should then be barely visible.

4) Turn the card back and smooth over the ridges either side of the cut. You will have cut 4 or 5 wires, so it is most unlikely they could *all* rejoin and negate your work. It is advisable however to smooth it to prevent jamming in terminals.

I tried it on a supermarket robot PoS terminal (Co-op has contactless types). I couldn’t make the contactless feature work, but was able to use my PIN as normal. Success!

Val says:
26 June 2016

When I received my replacement MBNA credit card a couple of weeks ago I was dismayed to discover it was a contactless card. As somebody who works in a credit card call centre (our cards are currently not contactless) I am well aware of the issues customers have suffered with their card details having been ‘swiped’ by hand-held readers. Customers tend to tell you about these things and ask if ours are contactless. I immediately phoned MBNA and asked for a ‘normal’ chip and PIN card. I was informed that ‘ all of our cards are now contactless’. As somebody who does pay my balance in full every month, I immediately closed my account with them and told them this was the reason. I had been with MBNA for something in the region of 20 years. I am still looking for a replacement card which is NOT contactless. Anybody got any ideas as I don’t particularly want a card from the company I work for – mixing business and personal stuff is never good as far as I’m concerned!

Believe me when I say the fraudsters can get away with an awful lot of £30 transactions before you might notice, particularly if you don’t check your account on-line / use your credit card on a regular basis! It happens….

I have just asked Halifax for a non-Contactless card (after getting a Contactless in the post).

Very please to report; no resistance, no hurdles, no cross-examination – she just ordered a new card for me.
This compares favourably to Barclays and Metrobank that (so far) refuse to issue non-Contactless.

(Others that have sent non-Contactless include NatWest, RBS and Lloyds.)

I’m currently having a dispute with Barclaycard who point-blank refuse to provide me with a non-contactless card.
In view of the widespread concern about contactless cards and the fact that 79% of people surveyed by Which? said that there should be an opt-out, I would like to see Which? campaign for a change in the law – requiring all card issuers to provide non-contactless cards on request.

Jeff says:
6 July 2017

It’s just another great idea that not all people want but the Techies say they have to have!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I saw on a tv consumer program that banks are obliged to also offer non-contactless cards. As such I have just changed back to the “old fashioned” more secure system of chip and pin for all transactions for my cards with HSBC and John Lewis . Of course there always has to be an exception and that’s where American Express comes in. They told me that they only offer contactless. So for them I guess it’s: you can take it or leave it! Customer is king except with American Express!

Ben says:
6 August 2021

Last year a banking error meant I couldn’t use my card or withdraw cash from a machine. I had no cash on me and a day out was ruined. I felt like an abandoned child in a desert. Cash means ability to participate in society. Cash is freedom, privacy and autonomy. The banking error was corrected the next day but I will never forget how precious cash is.

Ben — Quite so. However much I might used cashless payment facilities, I never go out without an adequate supply of cash. I also carry a card for a second bank in case my primary account has a bad day.