Consumer alert: Banks, experts debate safety of new chip cards

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Banks have been sending out new chip-enabled credit cards that have to be inserted and held in a credit card reader to complete a transaction. These new cards look similar to your old credit cards, but now have a small metallic chip on the front. Think of the chips — called EMV microchips — as […]

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The deadline has come and gone for retailers to be set up for those new, chip cards.

However, not every store is ready, and you may not have even gotten your card yet.

Not to mention, experts say they're not as safe as you think.

WREG is on your side with what everyone should ask their financial institution when their card arrives.

If you take a quick glance behind the counter at the Cake Gallery Baketique in Downtown Memphis, you'll notice an appreciation for the old school.

The glass shelves are lined with the kind of cakes that would sit on your grandmother's kitchen table.

Meanwhile, the checkout process is brand new.

Necole Hightower is one of the small business owners that has installed new technology to read chip, or EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa), cards.

She demonstrated to WREG how the card reader words.

Instead of swiping she said, "You just slide it in here...you can also tap it too, some, at the top," explained Hightower, who also said the reader also takes smartphone payments.

Hightower has a "tablet looking" register device that also accepts traditional swipes.  She said she's seen some customers come in with EMV cards.

"I think what's happening is there's a slow conversion, so I see a lot of credit cards," said Hightower, who said she's seen fewer debit cards with chips.

Daniel Dent is the Senior Vice President of Consumer Deposits and Emerging Payments with First Tennessee.

He said customers will get new, chip cards as their old ones expire, and the bank is issuing them in phases.

"We just started our rollout with our credit cards starting this month and them we'll have our debit cards starting in January," said Dent.

Dent said customers can request a new, chip card at any time.

WREG also spoke with representatives from Wells Fargo and Regions.

A Regions spokesperson said the bank began issuing chip credit cards in May of 2014, and debit cards this summer. Customers with expiring cards will get their new, EMV cards first. Any customer can call the 1-800 number on the back of their current card for a new one at any time.

Wells Fargo said it doesn't have a specific date for all cards to be chip equipped, but similar to other institutions, expiring cards are being replaced first.

As the roll out continues, though, so does the conversation about how safe the new cards are.

The FBI issued a warning (later taken down and replaced with new wording) reminding consumers that crooks could steal their money and identity, even with the new cards.

The agency advised consumers to always use a PIN if possible, which is common in other countries already using the technology.

That recommendation sparked a debate with the banking community because some of the new cards will only require a signature and no PIN.

This is commonly referred to as "chip and signature."

Target is issuing new cards that will require a PIN.

Hightower said the system she uses has additional, authentication steps built in.

"It will prompt you to verify ID, so I just follow the screens."

Bottom line, ask your bank how your new card will work, use a PIN if you can and don't take safety for granted.

"The same things you would do with a magnetic stripe card, you want to do with a chip card," Dent said.

This includes looking at account statements on a regular basis to catch any unusual transactions.

Also, watch out for the latest scam where crooks are sending bogus emails about chip cards, claiming to be from the bank.

Industry analysts say 60% of cards will be chip-equipped by the end of this year, and 98% by the end of 2017.

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