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Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
Economic Review
Can smart cards reduce payments fraud and identity theft?
Richard J. Sullivan

In the United States, when a consumer presents a payment to a merchant, the merchant typically makes a request for authorization before accepting the payment. Personal information, such as an account number, address, or telephone number, are often enough to initiate a payment. A serious weakness of this system is that criminals who obtain the correct personal information can impersonate an honest consumer and commit payments fraud. ; A key to improving security-and reducing payments fraud-might be payment smart cards. Payment smart cards have an embedded computer chip that encrypts messages to aid authorization. If properly configured, payment smart cards could provide direct benefits to consumers, merchants, banks, and others. These groups would be less vulnerable to the effects of fraud and the cost of fraud prevention would fall. Smart cards could also provide indirect benefits to society by allowing a more efficient payment system. Smart cards have already been adopted in other countries, allowing a more secure payments process and a more efficient payments system. ; Sullivan explores why smart cards have the potential to provide strong payment authorization and thus put a substantial dent into the problems of payments fraud and identity theft. But adopting smart cards in the United States faces some significant challenges. First, the industry must adopt payment smart cards and their new security standards. Second, card issuers and others in the payments industry must agree on the specific forms of security protocols used in smart cards. In both steps the industry must overcome market incentives that can impede the adoption of payment smart cards or limit the strength of their security.

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Richard J. Sullivan, "Can smart cards reduce payments fraud and identity theft?" , Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Economic Review, issue Q III, pages 35-62, 2008.
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