Ask Laz: Safer credit cards are coming, but they can still be hacked

Credit cards
Chip-enabled credit cards are safer, but most U.S. plastic will still have magnetic strips for some time.
(Getty Images)

Wally correctly notes that new credit cards have chips embedded in the plastic for greater security. But he points out that there’s still a magnetic strip on the back.

“How is this safer,” Wally asks, “even with the chip?”

Short answer: It’s not.

But it’s a step in the right direction.


ASK LAZ: Smart answers to consumer questions

The United States lags the rest of the developed world in switching to more-secure plastic. Europe and Asia, for example, already are well ahead of us in rolling out so-called chip-and-PIN cards.

These cards aren’t hack-proof, but they’re much tougher for scammers to hijack because they need to break into the chip, where the data’s stored, and to get the user’s personal identification number.

Squabbling among card issuers and merchants over who should bear the cost of new technology for chip-and-PIN cards has slowed their introduction to U.S. consumers. There’s now a deadline to switch to the new standard by October.


However, all plastic, at least for the time being, will still come with magnetic strips so that retailers will have time to get new card readers in place. From a security standpoint, this means our plastic will be just as hackable as ever.

Eventually, though, we’ll reach a point where the magnetic strips will go away and we’ll join the rest of the world in improved card technology.

However, consumers won’t be out of the woods even then. Don’t forget: Most recent hacks have involved bad guys sneaking into corporate computers, where card numbers and other information may be stored.

Until businesses fortify their own defenses, consumers will remain vulnerable to data breaches.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz