Do Credit Cards Still Need Raised Numbers?

There was a time, way back, when credit cards weren't processed electronically by stores. Instead, the card was placed on a little mechanical contraption with a receipt made from carbon paper sandwiched between the card and a slider thing. The slide was then pushed across the card, which put pressure on the carbon paper and the raised digits on the credit card – copying down your name, credit card number, and expiration date onto the credit card receipt.

But when was the last time you saw such a device?

I can't see any other reason for the characters on a credit card to be raised the way they are, and if these antiquated "card readers" are the only reason for it, maybe it's time to look into eliminating it.

Is there any reason why this information can't just be printed onto the card? Any reason why a perfectly flat card with numbers that can't wear off doesn't make sense?

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  1. Courtney (1 comments) said,

    We went to a restaurant just last year where their internet connection went down while we were there, and they processed our credit card using the old carbon-paper swipe contraption. So it's still a valid backup for technology failures.

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  2. sparx (881 comments) said,

    I think that using them as a backup solution is even worse. Ultimately, the carbon copy is no different than someone writing down all your credit card info by hand (which I wouldn't be comfortable with) – there's still a piece of paper with all that information on it, and if it ended up in the wrong hands.. the results might be a bit less than desirable. When it's just a backup though, there are less likely to be well established procedures for securing the carbon copy and destroying it properly.

    I think if I ran into a situation like that, I'd pop over to the nearest ATM and come back and pay with cash.

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  3. spudart (888 comments) said,

    I'd assume the raised numbers help prevent fraud. It's harder to counterfeit a credit card with raised numbers. If we didn't have raised numbers, people could just make a card with a fake strip. After trying to get the card to read several times, the cashier would give up and just enter the numbers on the card.

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:36 am

  4. sparx (881 comments) said,

    You can make raised numbers on a plastic card using a heat gun and a vacuum cleaner.

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  5. Allison (1 comments) said,

    I've actually used one of those "antiquated machines" on several occasions while working box office at my school. I've also seen them used by other businesses. They're really quite fun to use!
    And by the way, you think having your information on a sheet of paper is scary? At least a piece of paper can be destroyed. It's almost impossible to destroy information that's been saved to a harddrive…

    March 9, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

  6. sparx (881 comments) said,

    :) I do remember playing with one a bit when I was younger. It had quite a solid feel to it, and sliding it back and forth seemed like a lot more fun than it should have been.

    You're forgetting one thing though: the information on the paper needs to be processed by the mechants credit card processor, so it's being stored in a database anyway. It's much easier to detect unauthorized access to a network and database than it is to notice if a piece of paper or two have gone missing.

    March 9, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  7. DM guy (1 comments) said,

    I worked in the direct mail industry for many years. Many of our clients were credit card companies. People want security and recognition in their credit cards. Removing the embossment will shatter consumer's confidence in the card. It look "look" less secure and "look" very very cheap as a credit card. Yes, crooks can create embossment with a heat gun and a vacuum cleaner. But that's beside the point. We're talking about image here. Embossed numbers "look" secure. Plus, it does prevent lo-grade crooks from making fake credit cards.

    Also factor in store cards (store cards that are not credit cards). They do not have embossing. Years ago stores stopped putting numbers on the cards. If the embossing is removed from a credit card, then they will simply have the appearance of a store card which is less desirable.

    About two years ago, a major credit card company that rhymes with Pisa allowed card manufacturers to move the hologram from the front of the card to the back. There was some resistance from banks to accept this change. They told their direct marketing agencies to keep the hologram on the front. I worked at one such direct marketing agency. The fear was that consumers would feel their credit card was less secure without the hologram on the front.

    But to your point, sparx, many banks are now indeed making the decision to move the hologram to the back. The DM agency that i worked at enforced this idea. The hologram only makes the front more cluttered. There's still a sense of security with the hologram on the back. It's just in a different spot. So perhaps consumers won't mind the embossment being removed.

    Personally i think it's a sort of security feature that people like to see and there will be much negative reaction from consumers if it's removed. Plus, it adds a tactile feel to the card.

    March 14, 2009 @ 7:16 am

  8. sparx (881 comments) said,

    That makes perfect sense. Damn you.

    I was going to respond and say that I couldn't remember ever seeing a card with the hologram on the back.. but just noticed that my Chase card moved it back there. I never noticed.

    What initially triggered this post was me calling in to change the address on a card I hadn't used in a long time (over a year). The card is grey-ish, with silver embossed raised characters.. where the silver is pretty worn off. It was readable, but it was like reading a really faded newspaper – more effort than I wanted to put into it.

    March 14, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  9. Eric (6 comments) said,

    But when was the last time you saw such a device?

    Other than sitting on the shelf at a local retailer as backup (and I applaud retailers that do this, it's much better than "sorry, we can't accept credit cards at this time" or shutting down the store like many nationally branded retailers do), I saw quite a few in use this past week at a trade show. On the show floor, in a place where internet access is either unavailable or at a very high premium, it is very easy to accept credit card orders via this method. If you, as a merchant, want the security of confirming every purchase, you can call the card provider.

    April 23, 2009 @ 8:34 am

  10. sparx (881 comments) said,

    If I was in a store that could only process my credit card using a "chu-chunk" carbon copy machine (which would result in a copy of my credit card number lying around on a sheet of paper) – I would either shop elsewhere, or find the nearest ATM to get cash.

    April 23, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  11. Eric (6 comments) said,

    You assume that nearby ATMs are both existing and functioning. This also assumes that the purchase is for less than the maximum amount of funds that the ATM will issue.

    April 23, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  12. sparx (881 comments) said,

    If I'm so far from civilization that I can't find a working ATM, and this is the only method of payment, AND it's going to exceed the $750 daily ATM limit on my debit card… well, that's too many flashing red warning lights for me to complete a purchase.

    April 23, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  13. Eric (6 comments) said,

    in this thought example, it is the following:
    {[(You can't find a working ATM OR it's going to exceed the $200-$500 withdrawal limit on the ATM you use OR it's going to exceed the $750 daily ATM limit on your debit card) AND they will accept cash] OR they will accept credit via block swipe} AND (you cannot provide any alternate form of payment that they will accept OR they will not accept any other forms of payment) AND (you want this exchange OR have already entered into a debt for this exchange).

    Note that much of the above is easily satisfied by a local infrastructure failure such as a telco system losing a trunk line or a major local ISP failing to provide service. It's your option not to purchase from such a system, but be aware that others may want to in such a situation. Also be aware that there may be something in your cardholders agreement that requires you complete a debt by such a means if offered, valid, and the only available option.

    April 23, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  14. sparx (881 comments) said,

    "AND they will accept cash" – aren't businesses required, by law, to accept government issued currency (i.e. cash) as payment for debts?

    "Also be aware that there may be something in your cardholders agreement that requires you complete a debt by such a means if offered, valid, and the only available option." – again.. cash, or check if accepted. Credit is never the only available option.

    April 23, 2009 @ 9:50 am

  15. Eric (6 comments) said,

    In the United States, they are required to accept cash "for all DEBTS". They can offer a direct sale for credit only since you will not be entered into a debt until after the sale, although in practice very few do.

    Check may not be accepted and you may not have the required cash on you. Mind you, I don't make a habit of making purchases or entering into a debt (like ordering at a restaurant) without having the cash already on me, but some do.

    Again, the availability of such a device should not be restricted because *YOU* don't want to use it, others do and will.

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  16. spudart (888 comments) said,

    On my credit card for the signature on the back, instead of signing my name, i wrote "SIGNATURE REQUIRED." About 1 out of 10 places look at that and ask for my ID.

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  17. sparx (881 comments) said,

    The original question that you're addressing was whether or not they're even needed. That question has been answered.

    Regardless of that, I still feel they're a poor solution – but I don't believe I ever suggested restricting the use of them. Just getting rid of them 😛 (if no longer needed).

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  18. spudart (888 comments) said,

    This post should appear in the sparxmind "Popular Posts" sidebar. It really should.

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  19. Eric (6 comments) said,

    Getting rid of them is a means of restricting their use and is silly.

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  20. sparx (881 comments) said,

    "(if no longer needed)." :)

    April 23, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  21. hans (1 comments) said,

    It is still routine for taxicabs to use these "antiquated" carbon-imprint machines. And when you're on a trip that involves hundreds of dollars worth of cab fares and a lot of walking on unfamiliar streets, it's nice to use a card and not ask the poor cabbie to transcribe your digits.

    January 5, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

  22. Richard (1 comments) said,

    The reason why they are still raised is because many merchants use the old impress machines as back-up if their computer system goes down. This also proves the card was actually in the store as it was charged protecting the merchant from potential charge-backs.

    July 11, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

  23. sparx (881 comments) said,

    I understand the reason for them – my point was, how often does this happen? I haven't seen one used in years, and have never had my card run through an impress machine (and would end the transaction if that was all that was available.)

    There was recently (within the last week) a story about a larger bank switching to flat debit cards. The reasoning was that no one uses impress machine's anymore, and the flat cards could be printed out and given to the bank customer when they open their account.

    July 12, 2010 @ 9:08 am

  24. Jason (1 comments) said,

    I work at a motorcycle dealership, and we recently got rid of the old manual carbon copy contraption.

    We get a lot of customers from Mexico who pay with their credit cards. NONE of their cards have raised numbers. That's right, they are all completely flat with the numbers, expiration date, and name printed on them. They still have the holographic logo on them too.

    In the event of a power failure, it would not be wise to accept a credit card number for payment without actually running the card electronically.. even if you make a carbon copy swipe. I have swiped a lot of cards selling stuff, and have seen many "declined" notices.

    February 19, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

  25. diggisaur (1 comments) said,

    The raised numbers are archiac and should be flattened. It is merely a false sense of security. Just like moving the hologram. Doesn't matter where it is as long as it is present.

    The USA continues to be behind in credit card fraud technology. Most other countries have already adopted or have plans to adopt chip and pin technology. The USA is the only country with no plans.

    Try asking a merchant in the UK to swipe a magnetic strip. They will probably look at you weird, like you have just asked them to write something with a quill and parchment.

    Since the adoption of the chip and pin CC fraud in the UK has dropped 90%.

    US banks have not adopted it because it is "too" expensive. Or in reality, cheaper to pay back fradaulent charges on accounts.

    International merchants like Wal-Mart have been begging for chip and pin to come to the USA for years.

    To summarize, that chip looks a whole lot more impressive security wise on your card than raised numbers.

    For those not aware. I am not referring to PayWave or any other chip and security items added to CCs in the USA. Google images of chip and pin and you will see what looks like a cell phone SIM card embedded in the credit cards.

    July 13, 2011 @ 12:24 am

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