Let's get smart

For a smart country, we are not being very smart about our plastic.

As recent news reports have made clear yet again, the U.S. has fallen inexcusably far behind the rest of the developed world in replacing magnetic strips with smart chips in our debit and credit cards.

The headlines about data breaches at big retailers like Target have dominated the news, but hackers can strike anywhere and escape detection until it's too late. Hotel franchisee White Lodging, which operates 171 hotels under various national brands, recently disclosed that credit card data at 14 of its properties was compromised over a nine-month period in 2013.

The only good news here is that the damage was mostly confined to food-and-beverage transactions rather than reservations transactions.

According to a recent report in the Washington Post, the U.S. in 2012 accounted for 30% of worldwide payment card charges but 47% of the fraud-related losses. In this department, we lead the world.

The culprit is widely seen as the magnetic stripe on the back of the typical U.S. payment card, which gives the merchant -- and the hacker -- the user's full name, account number and card expiration date. Smart cards with an embedded chip give the merchant a transaction number. Period.

This is a no-brainer. Back in 2011, U.S. card issuers said they would begin to shift the liability for fraud losses on magstripe cards in October 2015, a generous four-year window. That deadline is now a year-and-a-half away.

It's time to pick up the pace.
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