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Tap-and-go credit cards are on the way, Tampa Bay

The technology lets you tap or hold your card near the reader and then dash off with your purchase. Added attraction in pandemic times: It’s contactless.

It’s a big consumer moment for me: My first tap-and-go credit card is on its way.

I know, I know. The technology that allows a purchaser to tap or hold the card close to the credit card reader and then dash off with their chai tea latte has been around awhile. Plenty of people already use it.

But consumers like me are starting to see them show up as replacements for expiring or lost credit cards, or as new ones, even when they didn’t ask for tap technology.

Tap-to-pay cards are meant to be faster. And the big bonus in the time of coronavirus is that they’re contactless, like paying with phones.

“”We’ve seen a big rise during the pandemic of people who want to tap,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “Contactless is very popular in other countries. It’s taken awhile to catch up in the U.S.”

If I can share a prior consumer moment here: A couple of years ago in Tampa, I tried to purchase an ice tea by handing the cashier dollar bills, only to have him draw back and inform me that they did not accept cash, as if I’d tried to hand him a dead rat by the tail.

This was before the pandemic and us worrying so much about touching potentially germy things, so my cash was apparently just old-school and uncool. Instantly, I felt transformed into that person laboriously writing a check at the grocery story — remember checks? — or digging through every pocket for exact change while the line behind them silently seethes.

Are the customers behind you judging how you pay? (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Are the customers behind you judging how you pay? (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]

Now for tap-and-go credit cards.

According to credit card companies, payments are made using short-range wireless technology that lets a tap-enabled checkout terminal communicate with a tap-enabled card at a store or restaurant. And their websites are full of helpful how-tos for us neophytes.

You should be able to tell if a card or checkout terminal is tap-enabled because you’ll see a contactless symbol of four curved lines increasing in size on the card or terminal. You hold your card 1 to 2 inches away or touch it to the reader. Your card gets read, and you’re done.

Is it secure? A one-time code is created for each transaction that “secures the cardholder’s payment information,” says Visa.com. Even if a fraudster manages to get it, the information would be useless because it can’t be re-used, they say.

“It’s safe to use,” said Christina Tetreault, manager of financial policy at Consumer Reports. “Consumers shouldn’t be afraid. The ease and convenience is worth it.”

The advantages: You don’t have to touch a terminal someone has touched before you. And it’s grab-and-go at a moment when we’re all about minimizing facetime.

There are potential hiccups.

Sometimes, experienced tappers will tell you, the first try won’t work, leaving customers behind you to silently speculate on what’s up with you and your card. (Am I the only who assumes they would be speculating?)

“Sometimes I’ve been standing there feeling kind of silly holding the card, and nothing is happening,” said Rossman.

“The first tap might not get it done,” said Tetreault. When it works, “it’s amazing and lightning fast.”

Other potential snags: Not all cashiers are up to speed on the process. Some stores might ask you to use a pin pad to sign for and approve a purchase, defeating that whole quick-and-contactless thing. And not all retailers have tap readers, including some gas stations.

The good news is that you can still insert — excuse me, I’m told the latest term is “dip” — your card into a card reader if need be.

So I’ve learned a lot. And when I get my card in hand, I’ll try not to let the line behind me get too long.

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