Page last updated at 20:17 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

Valentine's day chip and pin deadline

By Julian Knight
BBC News personal finance reporter

Chip and pin machine
Not everyone finds chip and pin easy to use

Valentine's day, traditionally, is for lovers - not for shoppers.

But after this Valentine's day, shoppers with a chip and pin card may be in for a surprise - and not of the card-and-flowers variety.

After what has been dubbed "chip and pin day", consumers using chip and pin enabled cards will no longer be able to sign for their purchases.

This deadline could leave many shoppers frustrated at the tills, consumers groups have warned.

Given a push

During the introductory period of the chip and pin system, if cardholders did not know their pin number, retailers have been able to accept a signature after first checking with the card issuer.

All we are trying to do is push the relatively few people using signature to use their pins
Sandra Quinn, Apacs

After 14 February, however, banks and chip and pin functioning retailers have decided to curtail this facility.

Those using a non-chip and pin card - and recent research revealed that nearly four out of ten consumers have at least one of these still in their purse or wallet - should still be able to sign in the standard way for purchases.

"The vast majority of shoppers have been happy using chip and pin," Sandra Quinn of the Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), the body overseeing chip and pin roll-out, told BBC News.

"In fact, 98.5% of transactions on a chip and pin card currently involve a pin rather than signature.

"All we are trying to do is push the relatively few people using signature to use their pins."

Ms Quinn was keen to emphasise that retailers will have the right to accept signature even beyond the 14 February deadline on a case-by-case basis. Likewise, card issuers may still choose to authorise payment without pin.

However, if a retailer-authorised transaction turns out to be fraudulent it is likely that the retailer, not the bank, will pick up the tab. This is because of an agreement between card issuers and retailers which came into force in 2005.

Under this agreement, fraud which occurs because retailers have either not installed chip and pin technology, or because a retailer accepts a signature when the bank hasn't authorised it is the responsibility of the retailer.

Vulnerable consumers

Consumer bodies are concerned that people suffering from visual impairments, degenerative brain disease, such as Alzheimer, or who find remembering numbers very difficult are being left behind in the dash to chip and pin.

The National Consumer Council (NCC) has estimated that up to three million Britons could have difficulties with their pins after 14 February.

Ultimately, the fear is that these consumers could face the embarrassment of being refused access to goods and services just because they do not know the four-digit code.

Retailers have to make sure people leave with the goods and their dignity intact
Paul Clarke, Usdaw

"The anecdotal evidence we have is that there is widespread misunderstanding amongst bank and shop staff over what happens on 14 February," Janice Allen, spokeswoman for the NCC, told BBC News.

"Many vulnerable consumers are being told that they will have to use their pins or they will not be able to shop using card payment."

Retail unions on calling on shop owners to ensure their staff are properly trained to cope with situations where payment is refused.

"What is needed is a sensitive and mature response to any problems that arise," said Paul Clarke, spokesman for retail union Usdaw.

"Retailers have to make sure people leave with the goods and their dignity intact."

"A substantial proportion of the 20,000 annual assaults on shop staff result from payment refusal."

However, Mr Clarke said that he was encouraged by the decision of one leading supermarket to have more supervisors on hand after 14 February to deal with any potential flashpoints.

And the British Retail Consortium (BRC) maintains that the Valentine's day deadline should present few difficulties for shoppers.

Alternative card

People who feel that they can not cope with chip and pin have the right to ask their card issuer for a chip and signature card.

When a chip and signature card is used the assistant slots the card into the reader at the till, and an on-screen message appears telling the assistant to accept a signature rather than a pin number.

But according to Apacs just 100,000 chip and signature cards have been issued, a drop in the ocean compared to the 130 million chip and pin cards now in circulation.

The BBC has received emails from bank customers reporting that staff in some branches are insisting that people applying for chip and signature prove that they are registered disabled.

In response, HSBC, one of the high street banks cited in emails, denied it insisted that people had to prove a disability and said its policy was to take people in "good faith".

"It seems to me that the people at the top of the banks know what should be done, but in some cases it is not filtering down to branch staff," Ms Quinn said.

To ensure greater protection for vulnerable consumers, the NCC is calling for an urgent update to the UK's voluntary banking code.

The update would require banks to publicise the fact they offer a chip and signature option.

Card is inserted in chip and pin terminal at checkout
Check the amount on the screen
Enter your pin on the keypad
You will be given a receipt

Ms Quinn told BBC news that it supported the NCC's call.

However, the banking code is not due to be reviewed until 2008.

The code is reviewed every few years, which can mean a time-lag between problems emerging in the banking sector and the code being altered to offer consumers greater protection.

Fraud falls

The introduction of chip and pin technology seems to be having a substantial effect in cutting some types of fraud.

Fraud involving the stealing and counterfeiting of debit and credit cards has fallen about 30% year-on-year, figures released last October have shown.

As far as the card issuers are concerned the 14 February deadline is about shutting the door on this type of fraud.

However, so-called "card not present" fraud has risen sharply of late as gangs of organised fraudsters look for ways around chip and pin.

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