The plastic card is likely the most ubiquitous non-cash payment technology. It has been around since the mid-20th century, but may soon be obsolete. A key component of how plastic payment cards work in the United States is the magnetic stripe. Although a simple and effective, the “mag stripe” is much-maligned in the industry, as it is highly vulnerable to fraud. This chapter answers the questions: Why do US banks still issue magnetic stripe cards, and why did they adopt such a vulnerable technology in the first place? It also reviews alternative technologies for transmitting card information, such as chip and PIN, Optical Character Resolution (OCR), and Citibank’s patented “magic middle.”
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