Credit cards with RFID chips are getting a lot of attention lately, but they really aren’t that new.
In 2005, J.P. Morgan Chase introduced a “contactless” credit card embedded with an RFID chip and called it “Blink” technology. An RFID (radio frequency identification) credit card has a radio frequency microprocessor embedded in it. It’s a “read-only” chip that contains your personal credit card information.
When you check out at the register, you wave it within a few inches of an RFID-enabled terminal. The information on your card is transmitted via radio waves. The terminal reads the data and your purchase is processed.
This technology is also present in other parts of our daily lives. Do you have a card that lets you drive through a tollbooth without stopping? That card uses RFID technology. The difference with credit cards is that the embedded RFID chip only works when it’s within 1–4 inches of a reader.
Believe it or not, you might have one of these cards without even knowing it. Most of these cards look like any other card. They’ve got the magnetic stripe on the back so the card can also be swiped to pay for purchases.
How to find out if you have an RFID credit card
At first, I thought this part would be easy. Numerous articles told me to look for “four waves,” which are supposed to make us think of radio waves.
I wish I could say it was that simple. Retailers who take RFID cards use the “waves” icon as a common acceptance symbol, but RFID identification on credit cards isn’t standardized. On Visa’s RFID card, which is called payWave, you will, indeed, find four waves on the card. But on American Express, “ExpressPay” is the term you should be looking for on the back of your card if you want to know whether it uses RFID technology. If you have a MasterCard with an RFID chip, you’ll see “PayPass” on the front.
If you’re confused—and who can blame you?—call your issuer and ask if you have an RFID credit card. Really, identifying these cards shouldn’t be this hard.