Borrowing chip and pin credit cards

Just before she left for school on Friday, the wife told me that her debit card was in a certain drawer in her cupboard, and I should use it in case I wanted to go out. She told me the PIN and said that I could wish to draw money from the ATM downstairs if necessary, or simply swipe the card wherever I go.

I’ve always been queasy about borrowing or lending credit/debit cards. I’ve always thought that it’s illegal to use someone else’s card, even with their consent. The traditional way a credit/debit card works, your signature on the charge slip is supposed to be compared to the signature on the back of the card, and the merchant can refuse you service if the two don’t match (this is seldom implemented in India, but that’s the theory). For that reason, if i were to use the wife’s credit card and the waiter sees that the signature on the charge slip doesn’t match that on the card (obviously!), it might lead to an embarrassing situation.

For this reason I ended up withdrawing a significant amount from the ATM and using the cash thus withdrawn for my expenses. Looking at credit/debit card swipes in action later on, however, I was wondering if it was actually necessary to do so.

In Europe, like in India (Europe is the leader, India followed; US has no plans to follow it seems), all credit and debit cards are chip-and-PIN based cards. The credit card is not swiped in the terminal, but instead is inserted in a way that the terminal can read an embedded chip (more secure than the magnetic stripe). To this, you enter a four-digit PIN, which acts as the validation after which the charge gets approved. Typically, after you’ve approved a transaction with your PIN, a signature is not required, though in India they insist on it (despite the charge slip saying “PIN verified; signature not required”).

And that is what I’ve noticed here in Spain ever since I withdrew money from the ATM that day – there is no requirement for signature in any transaction. The waiter (let’s say we’re at a restaurant) brings the swiping machine, you enter the card, the waiter enters the amount and you enter your PIN, and out comes the slip and the waiter hands back the card to you and walks away. No signature! And this is standard practice across all debit and credit card terminals!

A possibly unintended advantage of this is that it’s now possible to borrow (with permission) someone else’s credit or debit card and actually use it!

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