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New chip cards annoy customers and clerks

Heather Nicholson was getting an oil change at her local Canadian Tire in Guelph, Ont., the first time it happened.

She inserted her new chip debit card into the PIN pad, entered her information and walked away. The cashier was nice enough to call her back to the store, having gleaned her phone number from the oil change.

Later that week, Ms. Nicholson left her card inside an Liquor Control Board of Ontario terminal. She managed to retrace her steps to find it.

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"This has definitely been happening more often than when I just had to swipe," said Ms. Nicholson, who has also been on the other end of the story at the hobbyist shop where she works.

"On my first day, I had to run out and give the lady her card before she drove away."

Store clerks appear to be getting a workout as banks and credit cards roll out new PIN cards across Canada. With the new technology, customers insert – not swipe – debit and credit cards into PIN pad terminals. The intended result is better security – but it has also led to stacks of cards left behind, and has ruined many a painstakingly planned errand run.

While proponents argue that forgotten cards are a normal hiccup in a temporary transition phase, critics say the new cards are a hassle.

"The chip thing is such a pain in the ass," said Lauren Boesveld, a former American Apparel store manager in Toronto.

"About three times a week, people would forget their cards. We had a little pile that would accumulate in the cash desk. On several occasions, I was lucky enough to catch it and I would just chase them down the street," Ms. Boesveld said, recalling tourists who forgot their credit cards while doing some last-minute skivvies shopping before a flight.

"I think a lot of it is people just getting used to the fact that instead of swiping it, they're now inserting it," said Caroline Chubberstey, director of public affairs at INTERAC, the network that sets policies around chip technology.

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(In Canada, the rollout began in 2008; so far, 65 per cent of debit cards have been chip-enabled. After 2012, magnetic stripe transactions will no longer be accepted at ABMs. After 2015, they will no longer be accepted at point of sale.)

With chip credit cards, there is yet another issue to contend with: Remembering new PINs that are replacing signatures, again in a bid to reduce fraud. Experts advise using different numbers for each card.

Shirley Matthew, head of chip platforms for Visa Canada, said it helps when a cardholder pick his or her own PIN, instead of going with the bank-issued number. "The research we've seen indicates that if a cardholder selects their own pin, it reduces the risk of forgetting by about half," Ms. Matthew said. "Try to think of something that's easy to remember but hard to guess."

Beyond PINs, something else is lost with the credit cards, said Ms. Boesveld, who now waitresses. Customers have to weave through restaurant tables to enter their PINs at the cash, she pointed out. "It's not about convenience any more, especially in the service industry. You want to just hand off your Visa card, let them process it, you sign and give [the bill] back."

She does prefer her restaurant's PIN pad terminal to the one at American Apparel: It beeps immediately after a transaction is completed, and will not spit out a receipt unless the card has been removed.

Similar measures are being taken at the LCBO, one of the first major retailers to implement chip and PIN technology last June: Its PIN pads beep until the card is removed. "Naturally it took a little while for customers to get used to the new routine," said Chris Layton, the liquor board's media-relations co-odinator of corporate communications. It took about a month for them to get "comfortable" with it, he said, after stores trained employees to be extra vigilant about checking for cards.

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Ms. Matthew believes that most of the solution lies with customers "coming up with new cues to remind themselves." For example, she holds her wallet in her hand until the card is back in it.

Like most things, she pointed out that people learn the hard way: "Once people forget it once, they tend to remember for subsequent transactions."

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