finalcardCredit card security is a hot topic, but perhaps it shouldn’t be…..at least not for consumers.   While large thefts of customers’ card data are making headlines with increasing frequency, it’s not clear that consumers should be as concerned as, say, banks or merchants.   The whole point of using credit cards; Zero Liability on any fraudulent purchases.  Even if your credit card gets stolen, lost or cloned — no matter what type it is — your maximum liability for unauthorized charges is $50, under federal law. That goes down to zero if your credit card account information, and not the actual card itself, is used to make fraudulent purchases, according to the Fair Credit Billing Act.   All you have to do is call the issuer, and they’ll send you a new card number without charging you the fraudulent purchase on your statement. The compromise was on the side of the merchant, so there is little that you can do, but with fraud protection you don’t have much to worry about. It may be inconvenient, but relatively minor in the grand scheme of your personal finances.

However, the fact that consumers aren’t personally liable isn’t stopping some entrepreneurs from offering non-solution solutions to consumers.  One such questionable solution is the “Final” credit card.  This wannabe dot.com company wants to assign multiple temporary numbers to its Final card, rather than just the one set of numbers that’s usually printed on a credit card, with each different number supposed to be manually associated to a certain store or groups of stores.  (This concept differs from offerings by Coin and Plastic, which bothsimply store multiple existing credit card and debit cards for the user, who is then able to choose which one to select for a certain payment.)

But here’s the rub:  security changes are already coming to the credit card industry, namely the new EMV or chip and pin feature, which will become the norm by 2015. (EMV is an acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, the developers of the smart chip technology that goes into these new cards.) Widely used abroad, these cards contain a microprocessor chip that stores the account information and communicates to the checkout computer at purchase. The chip then encrypts the purchase data uniquely each time it’s used. Vanderhoof refers to this as “dynamic” data.  This makes it harder for criminals to pick up useful payment data and use it again for another purchase, and it practically wipes out counterfeit fraud…..although it won’t prevent fraud that occurs when only the account information is used for a purchase, such as over the phone or online.

There are also contactless payment cards as well mobile wallets on the market today, Apple Pay, Android Pay and Isis. These virtual wallets on smartphones allow users to upload their payment cards and tap and pay with the phone. Two other mobile wallets, Square and LevelUp, use other technology. Square makes use of a mobile app that allows users to send a picture of themselves to a retailer to authorize a payment. (Square also makes a small, square-shaped card reader that attaches to iPhones, Androids and iPads for point-of-sale purchases.) LevelUp also is an app that sends a code to users who scan it at checkout to complete a purchase.  Unfortunately, all mobile wallet technologies can be used only at participating retailers, so it’s not ubiquitous yet.  Mobile payments eliminate card skimming, since the user holds onto the smartphone throughout the entire transaction. Smartphones also come with their own security features, such as PINs or passwords that lock the phone. An added protection:  most smartphone providers now allow owners to shut down their phone remotely.

So is there really a need for the Final Card?   It isn’t entirely clear.  Equally unclear is whether the Final Card will ever get off the ground.  As noted by Bob Rankin,  Rankin raised his concerns about Final in 2014………..as of the end of 2015, this company has yet to issue any cards.   Plus, it doesn’t help that both the “Press” and “Contact” links on the Final Card website are simply “mailto” links that prompt you to send them an email. Could this be another way to extract your email address, and use it for who knows what? Will you get spammed as a result? Final’s Privacy Policy page says this: “if you’ve given us your email address, we may send you promotional email offers on behalf of other businesses…”  Hmm.

If you want better “protection”, look at setting up instantaneous alerts by email/text for any purchases greater than $0.01 or whatever the lowest value will be. If you’re worried about not having a credit card while a new one is being shipped to you, get a second one so you can use that while the first is undergoing the processes of getting the fraudulent purchase removed the next time this happens again.  As for the Final Card…..we agree with Rankin that it is best not to sign up for early access to this product yet.   Ironically, the odds are better that you’re email address will be sold to spammers before you actually get a safe credit card.   Final claims its card will be coming out in early 2016…….we’ll see.