What to know before you pay on the go

Consumer Action releases guide to the latest mobile payment systems

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With the growth in mobile payment systems, Consumer Action surveyed the top mobile payment service providers to offer consumers help in making informed choices about how to “tap and pay” by smartphone. New “mobile wallets” allow consumers to pay-by-phone in stores, in apps and on the Web.

Consumer Action’s Mobile Payments Guide (bit.ly/CA_News_Fall_2015), highlighted in our latest issue of Consumer Action News, details how these systems—Apple Pay, Android Pay, PayPal Mobile and Samsung Pay—work and what to consider when deciding to make mobile payments.

In Consumer Action’s Mobile Payments Guide, we report on:

  • How and where to use mobile wallets
  • How to make the most of mobile payments
  • How to handle disputes in the absence of clear-cut consumer protections

Tap-and-pay mobile wallets are free to use and are slowly gaining acceptance at more stores. The mobile payment platforms we looked at link users’ payment cards (credit, debit or prepaid) or bank accounts to an app on the phone that connects wirelessly to payment terminals. In most of these systems, a unique one-time code, or token, is used to mask the actual credit or debit card number for security purposes.

The tools we examined, with the exception of PayPal Mobile, each operate on only a single system: Apple Pay on iPhones and iPads, Android Pay on Google’s Android devices and Samsung Pay on Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones. PayPal Mobile can be used by anyone with a mobile phone, regardless of make or model, but it does not currently feature tap-and-pay capability. It does, however, operate with older phones.

The newest entrant, Samsung Pay, has been designed to work at virtually every retailer because it is compatible with both near field communication (NFC) and magnetic secure transmission (MST) technologies. This dual functionality allows it to be used with traditional card readers as well as tap-and-pay terminals. This should give Samsung a leg up on the competition, but not all banks partner with Samsung Pay, so that will create some roadblocks, at least for now.

NFC uses a computer chip in the phone to wirelessly transmit payment information over a short range to an NFC-enabled payment terminal. MST transfers information to existing, traditional payment terminals that can read the magnetic stripe information on credit, debit and prepaid cards.

It’s still up in the air whether consumers will choose to swap their bulky wallets for the ability to pay by phone. A Federal Reserve study published this year found that 22 percent of all mobile phone users had made a mobile payment as of 2014, up from 17 percent a year earlier—slow growth, but an upward trajectory.

Readers of Consumer Action’s Mobile Payments Guide who are interested in making mobile payments will be well prepared to try out the technology on their smartphones.

Just want the nuts and bolts? Here is a link to a PDF with complete details of how each system works: bit.ly/mobile_payments_guide_2015.

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Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

By providing consumer education materials in multiple languages, a free national hotline, a comprehensive website (www.consumer-action.org) and annual surveys of financial and consumer services, Consumer Action helps consumers assert their rights in the marketplace and make financially savvy choices. Nearly 7,000 community and grassroots organizations benefit annually from its extensive outreach programs, training materials and support.




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