7 contactless card payments mistakes we're making

As contactless payments exceed cash for the first time, we look at seven common mistakes we're all making.


Card payments have overtaken cash transactions for the first time in the UK thanks to the soaring popularity of contactless technology.

New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show cards accounted for 42.6% of all transactions in 2016, putting them narrowly ahead of notes and coins, which fell almost 5% to 42.3%.

“One of the biggest drivers has been the increasing use of contactless payments,” the BRC said in a release.


Contactless technology is designed to make paying for things like coffee, sandwiches and travel quicker and simpler, but as it’s all still relatively new there are ways we could be risking our safety or simply just not maximising its potential.

So here are some of the common contactless mistakes we’re making and what you can do about them.

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Tapping without looking

Contactless payments are so simple to make that it’s easy to forget to check the amount before tapping. So a £2.80 bill can easily become £28 if you’re not careful.

New research from card payments firm PaymentSense shows that we’re more likely to be overcharged when we pay using contactless technology than any other way.

It found around 53% of shoppers were overcharged when using contactless payments compared to 41% when using cash.

The research also found as many as 15% don’t request a receipt so we’re even less likely to notice we’ve been charged incorrectly.

PaymentSense set up an experiment in London to check how good we are at spotting being charged the wrong amount.

The pop-up coffee stall accepted contactless payments but deliberately entered the wrong amount into the card machine. In some cases, the stall charged £28 for a £2.80 coffee.

Being overcharged is often a simple mistake but in some cases devious servers may try to inflate your bill you so that they can lift the money from the till.

You might be particularly vulnerable to this in a pub, bar or restaurant, when you are distracted especially if the server takes the card and taps for you! Which leads me onto the next point …

Handing over your card to pay

It might sound odd, but handing over your contactless card to make a payment could put you at risk of fraud.

The UK Cards Association best practice guidelines states the card ‘should always stay in the customer’s hand’.

But often servers at pubs, restaurants, bars or shops will reach out to take your card and tap it themselves. While this may be an innocent gesture it could also be a crafty way to steal your details.

Experts say you should refuse to hand over your card to pay for goods or services as this could leave you vulnerable to getting your card skimmed – where your details are copied.

This is possible through a card reader, which could be a simple app on a mobile phone.

Not checking your statements

Even if you’re hot on checking the amount before paying, you could still fall foul of contactless card problems by failing to keep an eye on your statements.

This is especially important given the reports that lost or stolen cards that have been cancelled can still be used by fraudsters to make contactless payments.

A MoneySavingExpert reader discovered his Halifax cards – cancelled by his bank when stolen in November – were used to make a number of contactless purchases eight months later.

The security flaw lies in whether the contactless payment is processed ‘online’ or ‘offline’ by a business.

When payments are processed online the card machine instantly contacts the customer’s bank to check for sufficient funds and if a card has been cancelled it will be flagged – so there is less risk of fraud.

However, if a payment is processed offline the card machine stores up a batch of payments to process online later. This process is allowing criminals to get away with using the stolen contactless cards long after they’ve been cancelled.

Most banks have admitted to this vulnerability when approached by MSE and the industry-wide issue is under review.

The advice is to keep checking your statements for unusual activity and flag any payments you are suspicious of or don’t remember making to your bank, which should refund you for your losses.

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Keeping your cards in the same place

If you have more than one contactless payment card in your wallet you are likely to experience card clash.

This is common on the London underground when commuters don’t remove one particular card to use on the reader and try to tap their whole purse or wallet.

Contactless terminals are designed to only take one payment from one card for any one transaction, so will reject payment if more than one contactless card is presented at the same time.

This isn’t a safety risk but could cause a bit of a hold up for the people behind you in the queue and could mean you end up paying with a card you hadn’t intended to.

Storing contactless cards like a regular card

There is some evidence that fraudsters are using card readers to steal details from people using simple contactless card readers purchased off the web.

Which? investigation found researchers were able to buy simple contactless card-reading technology and lift key details from a contactless card to order items, including a TV for £3,000.

This can happen even if your wallet is hidden out of sight in your bag or coat. As contactless payments don’t actually require you to tap them, a fraudster just has to be a few centimetres away to lift the information.

To combat this, there have been a flood of products like metal cases on the market to help keep this information safe from scammers. However, tin foil is also known to be just as effective at preventing the card from being read. Read about how a foil-lined wallet can protect you from fraud.

Thinking it’s all about cards

Contactless payments technology is now widely available on other devices like smartphones, tablets and smartwatches via Apple Pay and Android Pay.

These systems allow you to store your credit card and/or debit card details in a secure mobile wallet and use your device with a contactless reader.

This means you can leave your contactless cards and the rest of your wallet at home.

What’s more when using Apple Pay and Android Pay, retailers are able to waive the normal contactless limit of £30 so long as a fingerprint or PIN code is used to authorise it.

Forgetting your PIN

While contactless allows you to make payments without a PIN, it doesn’t mean you can forget it entirely.

Card issuers will limit the number of contactless transactions that can be made in a day or over a period of time before a PIN is requested, in order to prevent fraud.

So if you only use your card for small payments make sure you can recall the PIN to avoid getting caught out at the till.

Learn more about contactless payments

Contactless is still relatively new technology so it’s important to keep up to date with how fraudsters are trying to crack it and the new and changing ways there are to use it.

If you still aren’t sure about how contactless payments work take a look at our guide: Contactless payments UK: how do they work, how safe are they and how much can you spend?

This article has been updated

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