Do I need a tinfoil wallet now?

I just had my first experience of contactless payments, and it didn’t really fill me with confidence.

I’m in the local CostCutter (note: does not actually cut costs) to pick up a bottle of white wine.

— That’s £7.75

— Do I put my card in here?

I gesticulate towards the nearer of the two chip and pin handsets.

— The minimum’s £8. Wait, what kind of card is that?

I show her.

— Oh, it’s contactless.

I’d never really given any thought to that logo on my card up till now.

— But I haven’t put any money on it. I’ve never used it before. I’m not sure it’ll work. Well, let’s see!

She takes the card and waves it in the general direction of something on the till. Something beeps. A till printer cranks into action.

I wait expectantly for my receipt.

— Oh, you don’t get a receipt with these.

She shows me her printout with the correct amount to reassure me, but I’m still confused and a little terrified.

As a transaction, it works, but the human dimension seems to have been missed by the designers of the system. As a purchaser, I don’t know what’s really happened. Something went beep. I think I’m now £7.75 worse off, but I don’t really know.

Worse, I’m now confused. It seems like I can now conveniently pay without taking my card out of my wallet. But if I have two cards with contactless features, which seems quite likely as I carry a bank card and credit card, and the banks push the technology on us without asking, which card gets used? How close is close enough to pay?

And, apparently, by summer, the Oyster card readers will accept contactless cards. Will it be smart enough to use the same card at both ends, or will TfL shortly benefit from massive growth in bogus incomplete journey charges?

Once you take out physical contact from the purchasing process, it all gets a bit too easy to spend money for my liking. Maybe that’s why it’s being pushed.

Do I need a tinfoil wallet now?


  1. jay

    Wrote at 2012-02-22 20:42 UTC using Chrome 17.0.963.56 on Windows XP:

    Really interesting post, would appreciate an update should you manage to get some definitive (or otherwise!) answers.

  2. CraigF

    Wrote at 2012-02-22 22:26 UTC using Chrome 17.0.963.56 on Mac OS X:

    Yes, very interesting. And terrifying.
  3. Jayne

    Wrote at 2012-03-06 17:12 UTC using Internet Explorer 9.0 on Windows 7:

    You don’t need any tinfoil,

    They put one in my bankcard without me asking for it. I don’t like the idea of transactions going through the air without my definitive purposeful swipe.

    I took a holepunch to it. Problem solved. There is now a clean round holepunched where the rfid transmitter used to reside. Magnetic strip unaffected.
  4. Terence Eden

    Wrote at 2012-03-18 08:38 UTC using Firefox 10.0.2 on Linux:

    I’ve always been given a receipt when I use contactless cards.

    You can get stainless steel wallets which will block any unwanted reads – they’re a little pricey though.

    Finally, the thing that gets my goat up is that there’s a minimum charge of £5 and a MAXIMUM of £15. While that means a stolen card can’t clear you out, it rather limits its usefulness.

    Personally, I have set my contactless card to send me an SMS for every transaction over £5 so I know what’s going on. Only problem being that the state of the UK payment industry is such that I usually receive a confirmation text 24-48 hours later.
  5. Greg Bowyer

    Wrote at 2012-05-23 04:23 UTC using Chrome 18.0.1025.151 on Linux:

    Yes you should be worried