NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Mark your calendar: October 1. That is when the rules of who picks up the losses for fraudulent use of credit cards shifts. There will be winners, there will be losers, and you definitely want to know how to maximize your safety.

The October 1 so-called “liability shift” - mandated by Visa and MasterCard - deals a new hand. Mainly, up until now, card issuers -- banks in the large part -- ate the losses due to fraud at retail. On October 1, whichever party - retailer or issuer - that has not adopted so-called credit card chip technology eats the loss.

How about you? Look in your wallet. Count the chip cards. This reporter counted three in his wallet. Another five were old-fashioned magnetic stripe cards. Your wallet very probably is similar.

You are not alone. Payments technology company Arroweye Solutions in a survey found that 79% of consumers have not been contacted by their financial services provider about chip cards (debit or credit), and 56% do not yet have EMV cards, that is, the Europay, Mastercard Visa standard chip. 

Are we in trouble? Breathe easily. You - probably - won’t come up a loser. “There is no reason to panic if you don’t have a chip card," said Stephanie Ericksen, vice president of risk products at Visa. "You have zero fraud liability.”

And when you do finally get chip cards, there may even be benefits for you in their embrace. That is because credit cards that feature a chip generate a unique, onetime code. If a criminal were to steal the code, it would do little good. Then too, just about any garden variety crook can access tools that read what’s on a magnetic stripe on an old-fashioned card -- your personal account info.

EMV ups the difficulty for criminals and that increases your safety, to a point. Remember the massive Target and Home Depot credit card breaches where tens of millions of accounts were compromised? Many of those accounts were pressed into counterfeit cards. As EMV is adopted - at more retailers and by more issuers - counterfeit cards at retail will plummet. That’s because, at least for now, the chip technology is beyond the reach of card counterfeiters.

So-called card not present fraud - online purchases and wherever the retailer has not had physical possession of the card - will soar however. Also the EMV liability shift will not entirely end counterfeit fraud at retailers and that is because most will continue to accept magnetic stripe cards for several years after October 1.

Note, too, just about all credit cards that are coming in the mail now may have a chip, but they also have a magnetic stripe. “I don’t know of any [credit] cards that got shipped without a magnetic stripe,” said Damien Hugoo, director of product management for Easy Solutions, a fraud protection company. That’s to let those EMV cards work at retailers that have not upgraded their terminals to EMV.

Confused? Justifiably. It’s going to be a two track system at retail for several years, with mag stripe and EMV both in wide use.

Also note: ATMs and “fuel dispensers” - gas pumps - get an extra two years, until October 2017, to incorporate EMV technology. So you will need a mag stripe to continue to pull cash out of an ATM or to buy gas, at least until late 2017.

Here’s the money question: should you pester your card issuers to give you a chip card? Know that most issuers will send off an EMV card on demand. Should you raise a yell? Advice from multiple experts is yes - but only if you have plans to travel to Europe, where chip has been the standard for some years and more places no longer can process magnetic stripe cards.

But, sadly, a U.S. issued chip credit card may not work in much of Europe either. That’s because in Europe the prevailing standard is chip and PIN (generally a four digit, user selected code). In the U.S., apparently to keep consumer confusion down, most issuers have gone with “chip and signature” cards - not as secure, said the experts, but there is nothing new to forget. The problem in Europe: many places (such as gas stations public transit ticket kiosks) require an EMV card and also a PIN. No PIN, no process.


And back to the U.S.: don’t assume, come October 1, that you can stop paying attention to credit card statements, because the fraud problem is solved, urged identity theft expert Robert Siciliano. There will be card-not-present fraud, there will still be plenty of mag stripe fraud at retailers, and who knows what new scams credit card crooks will dream up. October 1 may represent a change in the retailer - card issuer liability balance - but, for credit card crooks and thus also for us, it’s business as usual.

Stay on guard.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.