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Just how safe are contactless cards?

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

Contactless cards have soared in popularity but security is still a major concern for many consumers. We answer some of the most common security-related questions.

A rise in contactless payments helped debit cards overtake cash as the most popular payment method in Britain last year. Two-thirds of Brits now use contactless cards, according to a report from trade body, UK Finance.

A separate study by MoneySuperMarket found Brits use contactless more often than cash or chip and pin.

But the same report also said that more than half of people – 55% – are uncomfortable with security around contactless payment methods.

So just how safe are contactless cards?

The truth

Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that fraud on contactless cards and devices (such as Apple Pay) is relatively low.

In 2017, there were £14m of losses compared to spending of £52.4bn, according to UK Finance. And contactless fraud represented just 2.5% of overall card fraud.

The level of contactless fraud was 2.7p in every £100 spent – the same as in 2016 and less than in 2015. That’s lower than overall card fraud, which was 7p in every £100 spent.

Could a fraudster take money from my card just by bumping into me?

There has never been a verified report of this happening in the UK. But even if a cunning conman tried, they would need to have a retail bank account to access the stolen money. Banks carry out thorough security checks before opening a retail account and new accounts are continuously monitored for any suspicious activity.

The fraudster would also have to be right next to you. Contactless cards can only be a few centimetres away from the card reader and not near any metal objects, like keys and mobile phones, or other contactless cards.

Some new wallets are fitted with ‘anti-fraud’ shields to stop scammers using card readers to get to your money.

If I lose my card can a criminal steal all my money through contactless transactions?

Contactless cards have a £30 limit per transaction but there’s no daily limit on how many transactions you can make, so in theory a fraudster could make multiple £30 transactions and wipe your account. If the card is used to many times, often it is locked and requires the PIN to unlock it.

If money does get taken from your account, you are fully protected and would get all your money back. If you lose your card, or think it has been stolen, tell your bank straightaway.

Can a criminal still use my card after it has been stolen?

In almost every case, when a card is used the card machine gets an approval from your bank before it takes a payment. So, if you have reported your card as lost or stolen, it won’t work.

Could I accidently pay for someone else’s shopping by walking past them at a till?

No – contactless cards only work when they are just a few centimetres from the card machine, so there’s no chance you could end up paying for someone else’s stuff.

Could I pay for something twice if I have two contactless cards in my wallet?

There is no way you can pay for the same purchase on two cards at once. Card machines can only ever do a transaction with one card at a time and every individual transaction must be keyed in separately by the sales assistant.

To make sure you pay with the right card, it’s best to take the card you want to pay with out of your purse or wallet and touch it against the card reader. If you present your purse or wallet to the device and it contains more than one contactless card, the cards will clash and no payment will be taken.