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Q&A: Tricks for credit card swipes

Tricks for credit card swipes

The other day I was at a major grocery store checking out. The lady in front of me was going to pay using her credit card. She swiped it, several times, yet the machine wouldn't read her card. The clerk took the card and placed it in a regular plastic grocery bag, snugging the bag around the card. She passed it through the machine, which read the card the first time. What did placing the card in the plastic bag do?

There are a whole bag of tricks used by retail clerks to get their machines to accept credit cards. This is one of them.

Experts in the industry say that the magnetic stripe on the back of credit cards can be contaminated by all sorts of things — dust, dirt, scratches, temperature extremes, even exposure to other magnetic stripes that can corrupt the data from yours.

And there can be problems with the machines and cards. Norman Castner, countertop product business unit manager of Hypercom, which makes the machines that accept credit cards, told that his company's machines are expected to last up to five years, or up to 300,000 transactions. The magnetic strip on the back of the card isn't likely to last half that long, which is one reason you get new cards every couple of years.

So when something happens and a machine doesn't accept your card, experts say you can try to improve the swipe by wiping the back of the card off on your sleeve or clothes. Or you can wrap your card in a dollar bill or register receipt and try again. Some people have even been known to lick the stripe, though that's not recommended.

If the problem persists, some enterprising people and clerks cover the stripe with Scotch tape or put the card in a thin plastic bag. That can work because it increases the distance between the magnetic stripe and the head of the reader, blurring or softening the signal the stripes give out, another Hypercom spokesman told

"In lab testing, it has been shown that doing that does reduce some of the noise that the card interaction creates, and sometimes that can result in a good swipe," said Hypercom spokesman Pete Schuddekopf. "The serious downside to that approach is that the material that is being used can become lodged in the terminal swipe channel and even damage the reader."

43 supercentenarians are living

How many people alive today were born in the 1800s?

As of Aug. 30, there were 43 people in the world who were born in the 19th century, according to the Gerontology Research Group ( The group tracks supercentenarians, a term used to describe a person who is at least 110 years old.

The oldest is Besse Cooper of Monroe, Ga., who turned 115 on Aug. 26. She was born in 1896.

Q&A: Tricks for credit card swipes 09/04/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 4, 2011 4:30am]
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