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EMV: Chips and Salsa


It’s happening. We are switching our cards to the EMV chip. This will help protect you from fraud. Let me explain.

Skimming off the top

Thieves can easily make a counterfeit version of your card if they get the code within the magnetic stripe. This is often done by installing skimmers to card readers, usually at ATMs and gas station pumps. Some modern skimmers can be inserted deep into the card reader making them undetectable from the outside.1 They can even use tiny cameras to capture your pin number. Sounds pretty James Bond. So how does the EMV chip help?

You’ve probably seen the chip in use: insert it into the reader, wait a few seconds, and it will let you know it is done by gently singing the song of its people. The magic happens while the card is still inserted. The chip will generate a different code each time it is used which makes any method of skimming that code useless.

Is it fraud proof?

The short answer: no.

The less short answer: if someone has your credit card information, they can still make purchases online or by phone. But with the EMV chip, making a counterfeit copy of your credit card won’t be as easy as it once was.

We are still in a transition period—EMV cards still have the magnetic stripe and the new chip reader terminals still accept swipes. Adoption of the technology has been slow in the U.S.2 As swiping continues to get  phased out, EMV will become the spicy awesome-sauce of card security.