Why you shouldn't hand over your contactless card

By Michael Lloyd

Using a tap-and-go contactless payment card in bars and restaurants saves a lot of time when paying for your food and drink, but to reduce your fraud risk, don't let your card out of your sight.

Card fraud experts warned in July 2016 that staff at many restaurants and bars are flouting UK Cards Association guidelines by asking customers to hand over their contactless payment card or device when settling their bill.

Monthly contactless card spending in the UK surpassed £1.5 billion in March for the first time, according to UK Cards Association figures.  As more people use contactless payments, fraud is expected to grow. handing-over-credit-card

To prevent such fraud, "Whenever someone is paying with contactless, whether in a shop, bar or restaurant, we always recommend that the customer keeps hold of the card during the transaction," Richard Koch, head of policy at the UK Cards Association, said in an emailed response to questions. "That way, customers have peace of mind as they keep in control, and it also speeds up the process for retailers."

Andrew Goodwill, founder of anti-fraud campaign organisation the Goodwill Group, backs the cards association's recommendation -- with a switch. He told the Telegraph in July 2016 that staff at bars, restaurants and shops should not even be allowed to take contactless cards or devices from consumers.

But what exactly are the risks of letting your contactless card out of your possession, and what can you do to protect yourself from them?

The dangers of handing over any payment method
Bars, restaurants and smaller shops have always been fertile ground for dishonest workers -- and in some cases, company owners -- willing to commit card fraud. The stolen information can then be used in myriad ways, such as creating a cloned card.

"Most consumers still don't realise that they shouldn't be handing over their card -- whether they're making a chip-and-PIN transaction or a contactless one," James Daley, director of campaign group Fairer Finance, said in an emailed response to questions.

Allowing your card to be taken from you also can put you at risk from staff error. The contactless payment process is so quick and simple that mistakes can and do get made, experts say. If you're making the payment, you can make sure that you're not being overcharged.

How to protect your contactless card payments
So, what's the best practice to reduce errors and the chance of fraud?

Always insist on processing any transactions yourself, and make sure that you have the chance to review the amount that you're paying. Ask for a receipt, too.

If you're asked to leave your card behind a bar when running a tab, politely explain that you don't feel comfortable doing so, citing the UK Cards Association's best practice guidelines if necessary.

If nothing else, you can simply pay for each round individually. If you're paying using a contactless method, this shouldn't take you too long.

Similarly, if you're eating out and your waiter asks to take your card when you're settling your bill, always request that a card reader be brought to your table. If this isn't possible, tell your waiter you're more than happy to walk over to the nearest fixed point-of-sale terminal.

 "The key message is to remain as vigilant as you are when you use an ATM and never let the server take the card anywhere where you can't see it," Andrew Hagger, director of personal finance advice website MoneyComms, said in an emailed response to questions.

"There will always be the odd dishonest person trying to play the system," he said. "Don't make it easy for them by being too trusting. Never let the card out of your sight."

See related: How safe is unverified, contactless card technology?, Biometrics aim to make payments more secure

Published: 23 August 2016