Rise of the Contactless Payment Machines...

barclaycard bespokeNear Field Technology or NFT is one of technology’s latest strides. It means you can pay for things using a mobile phone, or with a bank card flashing a sideways wireless symbol. If you are using a card this means you can save seconds of your time by not entering your PIN into the terminal. Handy if you have only seconds to live or if you have forgotten your PIN number. But is it any use?

Well, lots of people seem to think so, with latest figures from Visa Europe showing  46% increase in contactless payments across Europe in the first three months of this year. That’s a total of 19m transactions, with 5.3m of them here in the UK. We are, in fact, “leading the way in contactless usage” along with Spain and Poland.

However, as with all things technological, there is also scope for what cyber-geeks like to call a cock up. The BBC Money Box programme has been investigating claims that so-called Near Field Technology has become more of a Not-So Near Field, with customers reporting contactless payments being swiped from cards minding their own business inside purses or wallets.

Rosemary from Sussex wasn’t even trying to save time- she only realised the contactless payment had been taken when the machine wouldn’t allow her to enter her PIN on her old-fangled debit card. Paula from London had a double whammy- the till took the payment from both her purse-enclosed contactless card and the debit card whose PIN she dutifully entered into the keypad. Both ladies were shopping at Marks and Spencer and both claim the contactless card was at least a foot away from the card reader. Another customer reported a similar issue at sandwich shop Pret a Manger.

Contactless cards are only supposed to charge the card when it is tapped on the reader, and in Marks and Spencer’s case, the readers are only supposed to work within 4cm, although they do work through the material of a purse or wallet. Tests undertaken by Martin Emms, a researcher into new payment formats at Newcastle University also showed that payment would be taken if cards were placed within a wallet at the side of the card reader. According to the card issuers, the cards themselves are only supposed to work within 5cm of the contactless payment point.

For the ladies concerned, having a purchase accidentally charged to a credit card is probably a nuisance, but perhaps not the end of the world. But what if this happened to someone who was already in a punitive overdraft at the bank? That one mistaken charge could result in daily penalties being slapped on an account, and a refusal of access to funds. Or if you’ve been doing something clever and transferred balances on a credit card, so you don’t get charged interest unless you make a purchase.

While far-reaching payment systems are probably a glitch that won’t cause most people a problem, perhaps this is a sign we should beware of all this digital tech. We’ve all seen Terminator…


  • Mad H.
    It's NFC, near-field communications
  • JonB
    So there is no security check? Sounds like a boon for pick-pockets.
  • callum
    Every now and again you have to enter your PIN, and there is a limit on the amount you can spend in one go. I know in Australia you've been able to use normal debit cards without having to enter a PIN for ages now in some stores and I've never heard of any big fraud increase. The banks wouldn't do it if it did because, as I said, they are the ones who have to pay out for fraud. Then of course there is internet ordering that doesn't require the PIN.
  • Wavydavy
    I think the maximum per transaction is around £20
  • Maximus
    Or it used to be called RFID. Forget this story and look at the billion dollar implementation in Disney World where it customises the rides and interactions, plus the cameras at the entrance scan you and compare it to see if you did use the RFID band at the main gate and inform staff if you try and sneak in.
  • Grammar N.
    If you have a credit card for balance transfers only you are unlikely to carry it around in your wallet.

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