Safety in numbers? Not likely
It's been called the biggest change to the British high street since decimalisation, with customers required to key in a secret number before they buy. But will chip and pin technology really protect us from card fraud? Aida Edemariam goes shopping for answers

Wednesday October 27, 2004
The Guardian

The ads were all over the papers last week. They featured a man holding up an LED scoreboard, and a pin pad. Under the first ran the legend: "Numbers can make you feel anything"; under the second, "Chip and pin makes you feel safe."

The ads were for the "secure new way to pay" known as chip and pin. Magnetic strips on credit and debit cards are being supplemented by smart chips which are much less easy to clone, and which only work when the customer inputs their own four-digit personal identification number or "pin". Campaign organisers have called it the biggest change for UK shoppers since decimalisation: 36 out of 42 million cardholders are expected to have their new cards by the end of the year. Three million cards were sent out in September alone; in the same period, 42,000 shops installed their new tills. Overnight, it seems, chip and pin technology has revolutionised the way we shop.

Certainly the campaign's claims for greater card security are persuasive. When a pin-based system was introduced in France a decade ago, organisers say, the rate of credit-card fraud dropped by 80%; this system is more advanced than the French one, so they have even greater hopes. But what does this revolution - which is costing the banking industry 300m - actually mean? And is this system really any safer than the last one?

At my local newsagents in south London, I ask if they've got their system set up yet, and am met with complete puzzlement. Finally, one of the two men behind the counter asks, "Do you want a phone card?" The two assistants at the video shop round the corner are a bit more with it. "Oh yeah, that," says one. "We've had it for while, but no one's got round to using it yet." "I don't see what the big de

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