By Julian Knight
BBC News personal finance reporter
As far as retailers and shoppers are concerned it is approaching zero hour for chip and pin card technology.
Chip and pin machines aim to cut fraud
From 1 January the responsibility for footing the bill for card fraud in the UK is set to change.
Retailers that shun chip and pin technology will have to pay for any card fraud that takes place in their store.
The total bill for card fraud in the UK last year was an estimated £470m, all of it picked up by banks and building societies.
No wonder, therefore, retailers will be expecting cardholders to know their PINs off pat.
If the cardholder fails to memorise their PINs then the retailer may turn the shopper away rather than risk carrying the can for a fraudulent transaction.
And there is strong evidence to suggest that a large number of retailers and shoppers are not ready for chip and pin.
By 1 January an estimated 34 million people will have a chip and pin card in their wallets or purses. That is two thirds of all UK cardholders.
The roll-out of 130m chip and pin cards will be complete according to the banks "sometime in 2005".
The transfer of responsibility for meeting the costs of fraud from banks to retailers means many shop owners will be looking at 1 January with more than a little trepidation.
If the retailer has installed chip and pin tills in shops they will not be liable for the cost of card fraud, unless they choose to accept a signature rather than a PIN number from the cardholder.
Most of the major UK supermarkets and High Street retailers are geared up for the changeover having installed chip and pin tills in store.
But according to the Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), which is spearheading the chip and pin roll-out, 15% of retailers have not updated their tills in time for the deadline.
"Many retailers have made a business decision not to convert their tills to chip and pin," says Bob Jarrett, professional services director for the British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) which represents 4,200 shopkeepers.
"Some of our members simply do not do enough business on cards to warrant going to the expense of changing their tills," he says.
"Alternatively, they may consider that they are not a target due to the fact that the goods they sell are not easily re-saleable by the card fraudsters."
"Whatever the reason, they are going to miss the deadline because they are not going to change their tills over the Christmas or January sales period."
But according to Apacs these retailers could soon find themselves in the fraud firing line.
"History shows that fraudsters target the weakest link in the chain," Jemma Smith, Apacs spokeswoman, told BBC News.
"If out of two shops one has chip and pin and other does not, then the fraudsters will move on the retailer that does not have the technology."
Under such circumstances, the profit-loss analysis on which many retailers have based their "business decision" to ignore chip and pin may prove false.
The shift in responsibility from banks to retailers for card fraud does not, at first glance, make 1 January a red letter day for consumers.
As long as consumers remember their PIN number they will be able to continue to shop until they drop.
In addition, retailers with chip and pin compatible tills will have the option of checking with the card issuer over the internet whether the card is stolen.
If the bank authorises the chip and pin card to be used with a signature rather than a PIN number the bank and not the retailer will be liable for any loss.
"The key message is that customers should still be able to use their cards even if they do not know their PIN number," says Jemma Smith, from Apacs.
But, nevertheless, forgetful chip and pin cardholders could find retailers turning their business away on the grounds that their card could be stolen.
Large numbers of shoppers could face disappointment, particularly if recent research from card provider Visa that one in five people do not know their PIN proves accurate.
When quizzed by Visa, forgetful cardholders blamed lack of enthusiasm from shop staff, while others said the new system made them nervous.
As for cardholders who are still waiting to be issued with chip and pin they will be able to continue to sign for their purchases in the normal way as retailers will not be liable if the card is used fraudulently.
The big idea behind chip and pin is that it is meant to head-off the card fraudsters at the pass.
Chip and pin cards include a "smart" chip, a better way of storing information than the existing magnetic strips.
And when shoppers pay with a chip and pin card, they are asked to enter a four-digit number instead of signing a receipt.
A similar programme was launched in France more than a decade ago which led to an 80% drop in card fraud.
But UK banking experts say that to expect a similar fall in UK card fraud is whistling in the wind.
"We expect card fraud to level off but if we had not introduced chip and pin it would have doubled by the end of the decade," says Apacs' Jemma Smith.