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Smaller merchants prepare for fraud-proof cards

Switch to chip credit cards kicks in

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

Businesses big and small are preparing for a major shift in their credit and debit card systems.

Beginning Thursday, credit card issuers will shift responsibility for fraudulent transactions to merchants. The new cards are called EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) and include a microchip intended to reduce fraud. Swiping the magnetic strips of traditional credit and debit cards eventually will be phased out.

"Small-business merchants have had a lot of success in upgrading machines that are rather 'plug and play' in the $100 to $200 range," said Stephanie Ericksen, vice president of risk products at Visa. "But it will take a few years before we get to critical mass" on the new technology, said Ericksen, who made the comments on a conference call Wednesday.

The shift is especially important for smaller merchants who usually have limited resources for technology upgrades, including ways to protect against fraud. And the cost of data breaches has increased significantly for small companies.

In 2014, cyberfraud cost a small business an average of around $20,000 in damages, up from $8,600 in 2013, according to data from the National Small Business Administration.

Deborah Ball, who owns the Candy Lady candy shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, upgraded her card system in the spring.

She said she was surprised at how easy and cheap the upgrade was — $39 for the new payment system from Heartland Payments.

"Card fraud is one of my biggest fears," said Ball, whose shop made the blue rock candy that served as a prop for meth on the hit AMC show "Breaking Bad." "You want to have safeguards in place."

Businesses that sell big-ticket items including apparel, handbags or electronics should be sure to make the swap first as they're more likely to get hit with counterfeit fraud, said Visa's Ericksen in a prior interview.

"Retailers selling luxury goods, or prepaid cards that can be easily converted to cash goods are more of a target than local small businesses like coffee shops or dry cleaners," Ericksen said. "It's certainly good for any retailer to upgrade to chip systems — it's a minimal investment in many cases.

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