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Crime and contactless

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Just because there isn’t any contactless crime does not mean that we should ignore the fears of consumers (or, for that matter, the police). Time for some mass market education on cuddle cards, as I now call them.

Although we don’t focus on it — by and large because it works and has become business as usual — I think that contactless payment technology is fun. I had an enjoyable couple of days trying out my usual panoply of cards, phones, watches and stickers when I was last in Canada and I have to report that the situation was all systems go (except for one of my UK MasterCards that was inexplicably declined) whereas in the US it remains mixed. Meanwhile, it’s going gangbusters down under, as I discovered on my last trip to Australia. I paid with cards everywhere, and almost everywhere I paid I paid with contactless. Like in this taxi, for example.

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Unfortunately, the Aussie rozzers are less enthusiastic than I am about the amazing technology, the rapidly-evolving Australian retail payment environment, innovation at point of sale and quick and easy transactions for consumers. They claim, in fact, that there is wave, plague and apocalypse of crime that can be directly attributed to the new technology.

“We’re seeing many, many theft of motor cars, handbags and burglaries where people are looking for these cards, are getting hold of them and within hours of getting them, they’re going into stores and using them.

[From Tap-and-go credit cards contributing to increase in crime stats, Victoria Police says – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)]

This is, if true, rather interesting. I say “if true”, of course, because I have been unable to uncover any statistics that back up the Victoria police claim. Nor, it seems, have any of their fellow law enforcement agencies.

Police around the country have differing views on the effect the cards are having on burglaries. The NSW Police said it had “not seen a spike in credit card related fraud since the advent of contactless payment technology”.

[From Banks stare down police over tap-and-go]

Still, this tidal wave of contactless crime must surely have shown up in the bank fraud statistics.

One of the major banks said on Thursday it had 30 per cent more ­contactless cards in the market compared with a year ago but card fraud was flat.

[From Banks stare down police over tap-and-go]

Oh well. Let’s just assume for sake of argument that there is a crime wave, plague and apocalypse but only in Victoria and only amongst issuers who do no collect or report card fraud statistics. That still sounds like a bank problem to me, since issuers will bear the losses. If a mugger demands my contactless card then I will give it to him. I couldn’t care less since it’s not my problem: the UK banks have an unequivocal guarantee to refunds unauthorised transitions. Nevertheless, the Melbourne heat seem most upset about contactless in general and especially miffed that they were not one of the stakeholders consulted in the banks’ roll-out.

he said police were not consulted before tap-and-go credit cards were introduced and that he regretted their introduction… “They are chewing up an enormous amount of police resources.

[From Tap-and-go credit cards contributing to increase in crime stats, Victoria Police says – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)]

The crime wave, by the way, does not seem to have affected public confidence, since contactless use continues to soar. It is at very high levels in Australia already, with more than two-third of supermarket transactions already tap and go. Use amongst police chiefs, so far as the statistics presented in the article would indicate, seems particularly high.

Mr Lay did admit he used a tap-and-go card all the time.

[From Tap-and-go credit cards contributing to increase in crime stats, Victoria Police says – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)]

Aha. I should point out, by the way, that the Victorian peelers objections to contactless go back some time. They’ve always been uncomfortable with contactless.

Police want to ban banks’ tap and go technology after vowing to take on big business over sloppy work practices. The force said it is sick of “mopping up” for “totally slack” initiatives that it states encourage crime.

[From Police want ban on tap and go technology, saying sloppy practices can promote crime | Herald Sun]

We have to address real issues, of course, but the fact is that public perception around contactless is not always rational. That Australian story was widely reported in the British press, fuelling public concerns (I have made a fascinating podcast with Karen Williams from Spectrum Insight on this topic). The British press have, it seems to me, always been rather keen on these scare stories. See this hilarious comment on a Daily Mail story about contactless.

It is well known that in America, thieves carry tablets and electronic readers in bags, walk around railway stations and shopping malls and scoop up all data automatically from these cards.

[From Customers charged twice for items because contactless cards were activated from their pockets | Mail Online]

Really? “Well-known”? If anyone can point to me a single reputable report of this ever happening, I would be grateful as I would like to link to it and continue the investigation. Far from being “well-known” I frankly doubt that it has ever happened at all. If you jammed an electronic reader up against my arse on the Tube, and kept it there undetected long enough to scan my card (I only have one in London wallet – haven’t you ever heard of card clash) then you would not get my name or the CVV for the card, so it’s not much of master crime. You can’t use the data to make a clone card and you can’t use it to buy online. Neverthess, as the analysis of contactless sentiment I discussed earlier in the week show, just because something doesn’t happen does not mean can ignore it. If consumer believe it, then we must deal with it.

I think we as an industry should probably be reacting to the “fear” area with some pretty clear messaging around how the technology works, how liabilities are distributed and the consumer protection that the combination provides.

[From Contactless sentiment – Tomorrow’s Transactions]

The traditional way of educating the mass market in the UK about anything is to pester the BBC to include it as an EastEnders story line. I shall come back with some ideas soon, but since I haven’t watched EastEnders for at least a decade, it may take some research to get a viable narrative.

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4 thoughts on “Crime and contactless”

  1. david@broadlycurious.com' David True says:

    Ah, busted! I suppose I know must leave all of my data-swiping hardware behind as I wander the streets.

  2. pollik@pollik.org.uk' Pollik says:

    I stopped reading at “Just because there isn’t any contactless crime”…a record.

    The statement is simply untrue. In Australia, it is a serious concern. In the UK there are around 700 cases annually.

    I now realise that “Thought Leadership” is simply today’s sexy neologism and that bull shit, sorry, PR rules the roost.

  3. pollik@pollik.org.uk' Pollik says:

    Hah….premoderated comments, without advance warning. There is a case for premoderation, but in an ideal open and transparent world, there would be forewarning, to avoid wasting people’s time.

    Added to my list of blogs not worth reading.

  4. Dave Birch says:

    I am fascinated by this topic Pollick. Wow! 700 cases! Please can you post a link from a reputable source to any case of someone’s contactless card details being read remotely without their knowledge and then used to successfully execute a transaction? I would love to learn more.

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