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Costa Rican banks to replace credit, debit cards to improve security

August 25, 2015

All banks in Costa Rica will have to incorporate into their debit and credit cards a chip with the client’s personal and security information, according to a recent directive issued by Costa Rica’s Central Bank (BCCR).

The central bank’s order, which the Costa Rican Banking Association (ABC) announced Tuesday, aims at enhancing security by encrypting information currently only stored in the cards’ magnetic band.

International card companies Visa and Mastercard issued directives last year to incorporate chips into all their cards to curb card-cloning, which allows criminals to copy a card-owner’s bank account and personal information onto another card for use. The magnetic band typically found on cards has proven to be very vulnerable to cloning cards using devices commonly known as ATM skimmers.

ABC spokesman José Ignacio Cordero said banks here will maintain the magnetic band technology since there are several countries that have yet to incorporate chip technology into cards.

The bank’s directive also orders chips to include contactless payment technology, an additional payment method that allows businesses to charge a customer without swiping the card through a machine.

“This method allows for faster and more efficient transactions, which is key for certain types of business such as supermarkets, fast food restaurants, public transportation, among others,” Cordero said.

The central bank set Jan. 1, 2016 as the mandatory date for all banks to start replacing their customers’ cards, however it did not set a deadline for completing the change.

A survey conducted by the ABC found that 95 percent of banks in the country have already started changing out the 7 million credit and debit cards currently circulating in Costa Rica. Several of these banks have issued a total of around 500,000 new cards with chip technology, the group reported.

Banks also will begin issuing cards with chips in exchange for those that expire this year, and those that have been lost or confiscated when banks detect a suspicious transaction. ABC officials say replacing all cards could take some four years to complete. Each bank will have to decide whether to charge customers for the replacement.

There are currently some 120,000 card machines throughout Costa Rica, according to the ABC. About 80 percent of them are equipped to charge customers via both chip and magnetic band technology.

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