Richard Hyatt

New security features worth little more than a blank stare at checkout

Those new debit cards are a pain in the chip.

They look like harmless pieces of plastic. But what’s in your wallet is an EMV Card, standing for Europay, MasterCard and Visa. We’re told they improve security and protect against fraud — all because of that little metallic square.

Our banks haven’t said much about those tiny computer chips, but we’re hearing about them in the checkout lines at our favorite shopping haunts.

Months ago I swiped my card at a pharmacy in Florida. The cashier said for me to insert the card into the front of the machine. I did so, but the screen still balked.

“Now key in your PIN number,” she said.

“I don’t have a PIN number,” I explained. “I use it as a credit card, not a debit card.”

“But you must have a PIN number,” she said.

“Not at my bank.”

The same thing happened at the same drug store here in town. My solution was to shop somewhere else.

The story was the same this past weekend at a big box store in Memphis. A fellow was cutting some plyboard for me and I went to pay for it. The machine at the checkout line asked for a PIN number and when I didn’t comply the cashier unsuccessfully punched in the numbers.

“You’ll have to use another card,” she said.

“I don’t have another card.”

“How about cash?”

“I don’t have that much cash.”

My card was acceptable for gasoline and lunch, just not a custom-cut piece of wood.

Back home, I talked to my bank. They didn’t offer relief but said they would send me a new card and suggested I remember the PIN this time. Stores blame banks and banks blame merchants.

There are an estimated 1.2 billion cards in circulation, and about 15 million terminals still must be upgraded to accept the EMV cards. The process is slow and expensive.

I’m adding another variation of numbers and letters to my collection of PINs and passwords. But more changes are ahead. New ATMs are coming along with modifications at the gas pump.

Pretty soon we’ll need a chip and a signature — for our protection, of course.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at