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Smarter credit cards befuddle small businesses

Credit cards with EMV chips.
PhotonStock | Getty Images
Credit cards with EMV chips.

More than half of small businesses that accept point-of-sale card payments are not aware of a major change in chip-card liability coming Oct. 1, according to Wells Fargo's quarterly small-business survey.

New EMV chip technology rolling out in the United States is designed to protect in-store payments by generating unique, one-time codes for transactions. It's supposed to cut down on hacks and credit-card fraud. But card issuers and merchants who do not pay to upgrade their point-of-sale systems to accept the new chip cards will assume liability for any fraudulent transaction after Oct. 1.

In the big hackings of years past, think Target and Michael's, the banks have been pretty much on the hook for their customers' losses. But, with the smart-cards on offer, the banks are putting the liability on businesses.

Only 49 percent of respondents on the Wells Fargo survey even knew about the pending liability shift. Some 31 percent of those who are in the know say they have already adapted systems that accept chip-enabled cards; another 29 percent say they intend to install a new system by the shift date; and 34 percent reported that they would eventually upgrade their systems.

About a fifth of those who are aware of the shift don't plan to make any changes. The reasons cited included: not being concerned about the liability shift, not wanting to pay to upgrade their terminals, and not believing the terminal would impact their business.

"While our industry has made great progress in the last year informing and preparing small business owners for the EMV liability shift, the survey findings show us that we have more work to do," said Debra Rossi, head of Wells Fargo Merchant Services, said in a statement.

Smart debit and credit cards are already widely used in Europe.

Major retailers such as Target, Home Depot, Staples and CVS have been victims of data breaches in the last year. USA Today reported last year that more then 43 percent of companies experienced a data breach between 2013 and 2014.