/ Money

Paying by card can ruin a good night out

Man taking card payment at bar

Paying by card is convenient for the punter and means less cash on site for the retailer – quids in, so to speak. But what if you get ripped off – or ‘shoulder surfed’ – and unwittingly give your PIN away?

Chip and Pin is safe, let’s get that straight from the outset. It’s more secure than relying on dodgy signatures, or using cash.

But there are crooks out there who have spent time working out how to rip you off if you choose to pay with your debit or credit card rather than ready cash. One of the latest trends sees gangs targeting pubs and bars.

What is shoulder surfing?

The con works like this: you pay for drinks with your card, entering your PIN at the bar. Someone stands behind you, and spies your PIN. They send it to a colleague via their mobile phone. When you return to your table, they lift your wallet or bag and scoot off to the nearest cash point.

The more savvy crooks steal cards just before midnight, so that they can withdraw the maximum daily allowance, and repeat the process as the clock strikes midnight. Within minutes you could be hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

This crime, commonly known as shoulder surfing can create all manner of problems for people. Banks are notoriously reluctant to accept that you’ve been shoulder surfed. They are more likely to conclude that you were reckless or careless – that you wrote your PIN down or told someone else what it was. So not only could you be a legitimate victim of crime, but also accused of perpetrating it through your actions.

Pubs should offer better protection

The Metropolitan Police recently told us that they think retailers and banks should be doing more to protect their punters. They should be using Chip and PIN machines that feature a guard, so it’s more difficult for a crook to spy PIN codes as they are entered in busy pubs and clubs.

Where landlords have followed the Police’s advice, incidents of shoulder surfing soon dried up. It seems common sense for retailers to opt for machines with guards. But because not all card machines are delivered with a guard attached, or the providers charge more for them, plenty of pubs are happy to go without.

I think that the banks, and other card providers, as well as landlords should think again on this, and take measures to protect their customers. What do you think?

Charly says:
25 January 2011

I always protect my pin and always ‘hang’ over the machine to much amusement to other customers behind me.
I just grew up with the assumption that your pin is yours and no one elses and prefer being laughed at then being stolen thousands of pounds.
I think people should be more aware what the consequences are of no guards on the machines, although having said that even with a guard I’m still hanging over the machine…

Am I just being silly or just being cautious?

You are being sensible. I do the same. I have always thought the guards are far too small or non existent.

Peter Ford says:
29 January 2011

The guards aren’t up to the job. I use my spare hand, so that even I can’t see what I’m typing (I find the keys by memory and feel instead). But some of these devices seem designed to make even THAT harder as well – with poor keypad layouts, and keys that need a firm & conspicuous jab rather than a gentle & discreet push.