Is it safe to have an activated contactless card?

Contactless card security

Today it is very common to pay with a bank card, either debit or credit. We can pay both with the physical card and also from the mobile phone itself with Google Pay and the like. It is a convenient, secure payment method that is becoming more and more widespread. But security is still a key point, even more so when we talk about payments with contactless card. In this article we are going to talk about how it works, its security and the limits it has.

How does it work

Using a contactless card is very simple. Basically what we have to do is bring the card (plastic or metal, as the case may be) closer to the POS. We can also bring the mobile phone closer if we have the card configured there. In this way, a connection is generated between both devices and the payment is generated.

But how exactly does this work? This is possible since use NFC. It is the same technology that mobile phones have to carry out some communications with each other. A kind of “Bluetooth”, but with much less distance. This means of wireless transmission will serve to identify us and make payments.

Each contactless compatible card It has a small NFC antenna inside. At first glance we will not see this, since it is very thin. This antenna will initiate communication with the POS when the card is brought closer and the payment can be made. It is a fast process, since it only takes a second. We must not confuse this with the visible chip that we have on the card (EMV).

If we talk about distance, in theory NFC technology can work at a maximum of between 10 and 20 centimeters. However, in practice it is normal that it does not exceed 4 or 5 centimeters. We can check it when we pay, since we need to put it very close to the terminal.

Are they safe?

This is one of the most common questions when using a contactless card: Are they safe? Can they rob us when using this type of card? After all, it should be mentioned that this payment is made without having to enter the PIN. At least, yes, up to a limit. Therefore, anyone could use the card to pay with it.

The question may arise as to what would happen if we bring the card by mistake to a POS or even someone maliciously brings a terminal closer to our pocket. This can happen in crowded places. But this assumption is not simple. The first due to the very nature of the card: we have to bring it too close and being in the pocket or wallet even more. But in addition, it can only be charged through verified POS, with prior registration. We could always report in case of fraud and claim the money.

But yes, the risk exists. Although the option of being robbed with the contactless card is remote, it is there. However, the maximum that they could steal from us is the limit of that card. Beyond that amount it would be necessary to put the PIN code. Although not in all countries there is that limit and we could have more problems if we are traveling outside of Spain.

Limits for contactless payments

What are the limits for contactless card payments? Here it should be noted that there are two types of limit. One of them, the principal, is the maximum amount that we can pay at once without having to enter the PIN. But there is also another limit that is activated once we have made several payments in a row or have exceeded an amount. In both cases, the objective is to detect possible fraud and prevent them from stealing from us.

The first limit is the maximum payment without having to enter the PIN. In Spain, until the pandemic, it was €20. As a measure to minimize contact when having to enter the PIN, the banks decided to increase it to €50 and, for the moment, that continues to be the limit. This means that, for any payment less than that amount, we will not have to enter the PIN code. If we are going to pay for something that costs more than €50, then we will always have to put it on.

Another limit is given by the european payment regulation PSD2. To provide maximum security, every five payments that are made by contactless without putting the PIN, they will ask us to put it to the next payment. In this way, in the event that the card is stolen, they will not be able to make payments of up to €50 indefinitely.

In addition, this regulation also requires requesting the PIN code when the €150 in several payments. That is, if, for example, we make 3 payments of €50, the next time they will ask us for the code.

Security advice

What can we do to be more protected when using contactless bank cards? We are going to give some essential tips that we can put into practice. In this way we will avoid the theft of money and have problems if we lose the wallet or simply reduce the risk of someone putting a POS in your pocket.

Reduce the maximum limit

The first thing we can do to maximize security is reduce the limit maximum for them to ask us for the PIN code. As we have indicated, today in Spain that limit is €50. But many banks allow that limit to be lower and put the amount we want.

In this way, we can set, for example, that the limit be 5 or 10 euros if we only want contactless to pay for public transport within the city and small items. There is even the strictest option of directly configuring it so that they always ask for the PIN code, whatever the amount.

Use a sleeve with RFID protection

Another option we have is to buy a RFID protection sleeve for the bank card. Basically what it does is block the signal. If we stick it to a POS, it wouldn’t work. It is interesting to keep it in your pocket with this protector and not run the risk of being robbed.

In addition, there are also wallets that have RFID protection. This way we can protect all the cards that we have saved and not just one in particular. It is useful if, for example, we are going to travel to a country where these types of scams are common and we do not want someone to bring a POS to our pocket and charge the card.

turn off the card

We can also just turn off the card. It is very common for current banks, through the mobile application, to allow the card to be turned on and off as desired. In this way, if we have a contactless card that we are not going to use, we can keep it turned off and, in case we are going to need it, we turn it on again.

This is especially interesting not only for theft when approaching a POS, but also in case of losing the wallet. Whoever finds or has stolen that card could not use it to make payments when it is turned off. You would have to activate it from the application, which we will control from the mobile.

Configure sending SMS when paying

This advice is rather indicated to have greater control over payments. It is interesting that they send us a SMS or email with every payment we make. Thus, as soon as there is an improper payment, we can take action quickly and inform the bank so that it can be reversed.

This will depend on the bank we use. Some cards automatically send this SMS or e-mail, while in other cases we have to configure it from the application or web page. It is simple and can come in handy to enhance security.

In short, as a conclusion we can say that contactless cards are safe, very useful and an increasingly used means of payment. However, it is convenient to take into account some of the tips that we have given to maximize security and avoid problems.