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Fitch Says Data Breach Shows Need for Payment Technology Upgrade

[Friday, February 14th, 2014]

Retailers could face increased costs for payment security after data breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus left millions of consumers vulnerable to credit card fraud and identity theft.

Fitch Ratings says that needed security upgrades will be expensive for retailers to implement, but that they are necessary to protect the public. Costs could be shared by banks and retailers, lessening the burden on stores, but how much of the cost would be covered by banks versus retailers is a gray area. Stores often take a loss when a data breach occurs, due to people being reluctant to shop there again. But banks and credit issuers bear much of the cost when zero liability policies mean they must reimburse consumers for fraudulent charges. Therefore, it is in the best interest of both parties to increase security.

More expensive security leads to less expense in the end

If enhanced security measures mean fewer payment breaches, then ultimately both stores and banks will benefit. The increased cost of security technology will be made up for by fewer fraud losses. And customers who are reassured that their information is secure will be likelier to shop in stores with better security, leading to more sales.

One of the proposed methods to increase security is by replacing traditional magnetic stripe cards with EMV chip technology. These are digital chips that are embedded into payment cards and replace the magnetic stripes. Europe and Canada both use EMV chip technology almost exclusively, and doing so has dramatically reduced their fraud rates. Chip cards cannot be compromised as easily as magnetic strip cards, making them much more secure.

In the United States, adoption of chip technology has been slow. Merchants have been reluctant to invest in the up front costs of replacing their point-of-sales terminals to be compatible with chip technology. However, these recent major payment security breaches may convince them that the upgrade is necessary.

Fitch said that they expect EMV chip technology adoption to build momentum going into 2015. Part of the reason for that is a new Visa program that shifts fraud liability to merchants if European chip cards used at non-chip compatible United States merchant locations are compromised.

A government study of card payment activity showed that in 2012, there were about 31.1 million third-party fraud transactions in the United States.

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