Fact Check Finance: Apple Pay is safer than using plastic
Fact Check Finance is an occasional series that puts common money assertions to the test.
“Apple Pay is even simpler than using your physical card, and safer too.”
It’s raining. You’re heading outside, raincoat at the ready. But the rain looks heavy. To be safe, you add some Wellies (very rural chic!). You open up an umbrella, too.
That’s Apple Pay, in a nutshell.
Your credit card offers the basic protection: a raincoat. Apple Pay offers added layers: the Wellies and the umbrella.
“It’s a good analogy,” said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association, adding, “Systems like Apple Pay on your phone are the most secure way to make an in-person payment.”
First, some context: Apple Pay is the biggest contactless payment method, with Samsung Pay and Google Pay as smaller rivals. (Your phone’s brand determines which one you can use.) Overall, 95% of card issuers, including all of the major banks, now allow their customers to set up phone-based payment, Oxman said.
But is your phone really the safest way to pay, as your local Apple Store salesperson would have you believe? To fact-check this claim, let’s look at how Apple Pay works. When you use your phone to enroll a credit card in Apple Pay, you’re not getting a new account. Rather, your credit card issuer (e.g, Chase or Capitol One) is authorizing your phone to act as an additional go-between for you to make purchases with your existing account. But unlike plastic, this method of payment takes extra precautions:
- Biometrics: A scan of your face or your fingerprint to verify your identity with every single transaction. (Apple rival Samsung’s payment system uses a retinal scan.) That beats the traditional means of authentication: a signature, a PIN, or, for some small transactions, nothing at all.
- Tokenization: Your account number is not visible or able to be stored by the merchant. Instead, Apple Pay uses a onetime “token” for each transaction, a string of numbers that’s not traceable to your actual account.
In short: Wellies and an umbrella. According to Visa, as chip-enabled cards have replaced ancient magnetic-stripe technology, counterfeit fraud for all U.S merchants has declined 47% since 2015. There isn’t comparable data to support the premise that fraud is even less likely when you use Apple Pay rather than plastic, chip-enabled or not. But the additional protections of Apple Pay can’t hurt.
Even in the worst case, when your credit card information is compromised—no matter how you pay—there’s a fallback plan. Let’s say a thief does manage to steal your info—for example, through a data breach or by skimming it from another transaction with an old-school magnetic-strip card. The thief then makes fraudulent charges using your account. All you have to do is contact your card issuer and the charge will be removed. You’re not responsible for any bills. Nevertheless, the process of correcting fraud is a nuisance—and it’s on you. If you don’t make a habit of checking your statements frequently, you could overlook suspicious activity and never get the fraudulent charges reversed.
The good news: The security overlay of Apple Pay and other phone payment systems like it make all of these scenarios unlikely. In other words, they’ll probably keep you dry.
Fact check verdict
Apple Pay is safer than plastic. Is it simpler? That depends on the tech-savviness of the person wielding the iPhone.