Outsmarting Counterfeit Fraud

Fraud + Chargebacks Fraud Prevention By Natalie Burg October 29, 2014

It’s not just your imagination; those headlines declaring that yet another major retailer has been hit by a major credit card data breach have been more frequent lately. According to Javelin Strategy and Research’s “2014 Identity Fraud Report,” identity fraud has been on the rise since 2010, impacting 31.1 million consumers last year. And it’s making a big impact on business. The Ponemon Institute recently found the average cost of a data breach to a company is $3.5 million — 15 percent more than last year.

And there’s a reason why American businesses have been bearing the brunt of those costs lately.

“In countries that have already replaced the vulnerable, magnetic stripe-based payment cards with secure, EMV chip cards, those counterfeit cards are no longer accepted,” says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of Smart Card Alliance and director of the EMV Migration Forum. “So that criminal activity is being funneled into the U.S. market where merchants are still accepting magnetic strip cards.”

But what do data breaches have to do with magnetic strip cards? Criminals will use the stolen data gained through a breach to create fake credit cards. But EMV technology is more sophisticated and prevents against exactly this type of counterfeit fraud. From the get-go, when a card with an EMV chip is inserted into a point-of-sale terminal, the merchant is able to validate that the card is authentic. After that, a one-time cryptogram is created to accompany payment data through the terminal. The security code is also unique for each transaction.

“We refer to that as dynamic payment data,” says Vanderhoof. “It does fundamentally change the whole process for how payment data is stored on the card.”

While all this may make the U.S. seem slow to evolve from magnetic stripe credit cards, Vanderhoof says, until fraud activity began to channel into the country, there was good reason for American merchants to hang on to the technology that was developed in the 1960s.

“The technology has been extremely efficient and cost effective for all of these years,” Vanderhoof notes. “Because fraud levels were still relatively low in the U.S, the cost of making this massive change — over a billion cards, over 12 million terminals — was very cost prohibitive.”

What’s more, the shift to EMV technology aligns well with the emergence of new mobile payment platforms, meaning merchants can upgrade their point-of-sale terminals once and integrate both technologies into the new equipment. And there’s lots of incentive to do so soon. Just as criminal activity shifted to the U.S. when other countries adopted EMV technology, so too will it shift to merchants still accepting magnetic stripes. Proactive consumers can request EMV cards in advance of the 575 million EMV cards expected to be issued by the end of 2015, and look for retailers who have transitioned early.

“We’ve yet to see how merchants plan to market this to their consumers,” Vanderhoof says. “We expect that some merchants will see this as an opportunity to promote that they are a secure retail location.”

Appealing to those customers is just one more reason for merchants to be at the forefront of the EMV migration, moving from the magnetic stripe cards that served them well for so many decades to the technology that will serve them even better in the future.