Since the introduction of credit cards in the 1960’s, the cards have carried the card number, expiration date and cardholder name in embossed or raised letters on the plastic card surface. Mechanical devices were developed and used to imprint credit card charge slips from those raised alphanumerics. Those slips were then, for many years, deposited into the merchant’s bank account like checks to prove the transaction took place. More recently, the cards were affixed with a magnetic stripe and were swiped through electronic devices that read and transmit the card information to processing centers for verification and sale authorization.
Electronic processing has now become so standardized that last year Visa announced they were going to phase out the embossing of card information on the card surface and future cards will be “flat”, the card information printed but only accessible magnetically with the stripe on the back. Other card associations – MasterCard and the rest-will follow suit shortly.
Few merchants still manually take imprints of cards anymore, with the exception of merchants accepting card payments for delivery of goods or services ordered by telephone – such as a pizza restaurant, for example. They do so to verify that the physical card has been presented to the merchant during the transaction, in order to prevent fraudulent charge backs.
In my own wallet I have an ePassporte Visa Electron card and the numbers are flat. No imprint can be taken.
And no imprint any longer needs to be taken. The new standard is to always swipe the card through a terminal, whether that terminal be in the store, next to or part of the cash register or point of sale system, or via use of a wireless terminal a driver carries with themselves to the customer for payment at time of delivery.
If your business takes orders by telephone or mail and you are manually keying credit card numbers into your terminal, you are costing yourself a lot of money in additional card processing fees. Manually keyed-in transactions are processed as “non-qualified” transactions at a rate more than double your basic rate, due to risk of fraud by the card not being physically present.
The fact is, card imprints are no longer a safeguard against fraud, because any criminal can create phony credit cards and use an Addressograph machine to emboss stolen credit card numbers onto them. Encoding a magnetic stripe on the back, however, is almost impossible to counterfeit. The stripe contains not only the card number but other coding which, when swiped through a terminal, verifies to the bank that the actual card is present and being swiped, not manually keyed in.
What can a merchant do?
Short of purchasing some sort of portable photocopier to copy the customer’s card and perhaps I.D., the only thing to do is to catch up with 21st century technology and equip your drivers or delivery personnel with wireless credit card terminals. The terminals may be purchased or leased from your credit card processor and they pay for themselves quickly, because now all transactions they process will be under a lower rate, as card-present transactions.
These terminals include a printer so you can get a signed receipt from the customer after the transaction is put through and authorized, and you print a second receipt copy for the customer. Just as if the customer had been physically in your store.
I have equipped many mobile merchants with these devices: food delivery, locksmiths, massage therapists, computer technicians, handymen, plumbers and other repair personnel – the list is growing every day as more businesses go mobile and deliver their goods and services to customers. The terminals are also great for fairs, shows, conventions and other locales with no landline telephone access available.