Smart Spending

How do contactless payments work?

Tap-to-pay, mobile pay, card-less payments, and digital wallets all offer convenience. A growing number of restaurants and retailers have added the ability to accept this form of payment. So why isn’t everyone using it?

Here’s what you need to know next time you approach the check-out.

Contactless payment replaces the old card swipe or chip insert processes by using wireless technology to make a secure transaction using your mobile device such as your smart phone, smart watch or tablet. The most common payment apps are Apple Pay®, Google Pay™ and Samsung Pay™.


1. How does it work?

Most mobile devices already have built-in contactless payment capabilities. They use two chips—one that accesses and encrypts your credit or debit card information, stored in what’s called your digital wallet, and another that transmits this encrypted code to complete the purchase. The system uses a technology called near-field communication (NFC) to communicate with the retailer’s card reader when you bring your device near the payment terminal. This allows you to complete the transaction without swiping or inserting a physical credit or debit card.


2. It is safe to use?

While the digital wallet in your mobile device contains your credit or debit card information, this is not the information which gets transmitted when you make the purchase. Each time you go to use the app, your account is assigned a random code called a transaction token, which is tied to the credit or debit card in your digital wallet. The token data is transmitted, but your actual card information is never collected by the merchant, which protects you from fraud if the merchant experiences a data breach.


3. How do I use contactless payments?

To get set up, first make sure your mobile device is protected by a PIN or biometric password such as a fingerprint/touch lock or facial recognition lock. Next, download or access the mobile payment app for your device and enter the billing details of the credit or debit card you’d like to use. The process of entering the information depends on the requirements of your app; you may have to do it manually or you may be able to scan the card with your phone’s camera. Once the card has been added, you’re ready to use your mobile payment app to make secure purchases. When the time comes to pay, simply unlock your device, open the app and tap the payment terminal with your device. 


4. How can I use this feature to better protect my credit and debit cards?

It is quick and easy to use your Global Visa® credit or debit card with a mobile payment app. If you know the retailer or restaurant has a contactless payment-enabled checkout terminal, you can leave your cards at home. Using mobile payments makes it impossible to use card skimmers to collect card information, and the merchant doesn’t receive your credit or debit card information; tokenization helps prevent fraud. 

If you enable the digital wallet in your mobile device, make sure you treat the device and app with the same care and caution you do your real wallet. Your device should be password protected; always lock your device and your apps. Install a separate app that lets you remotely lock your device or wipe it clean if it is lost or stolen and configure your digital wallet so that you are notified when your card is used


Did you know?

While tap-to-pay may never completely replace the old method of swiping your credit or debit card, contactless payments are easy and safe when your mobile device is properly protected.

  • If you shop online using the device that contains your digital wallet, you can use the same credit or debit card information stored there to make online purchases or purchases within an app.
  • While the U.S. has lagged behind other countries in use of this technology, Visa is predicting that half of all face-to-face transactions in the U.S. will occur at contactless-enabled merchant locations by the end of 2018.

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