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Chip Burning Sparks Concern for Consumers

Learn the warning signs of potential chip card tampering before activating your new or replacement debit and credit cards.

It was only a matter of time. The introduction of new technology starts the clock ticking for criminals in a race to figure out how to crack it. Just as consumers became accustomed to inserting their credit or debit card for a purchase instead of swiping at the point of sale, fraudsters have applied cunning creativity to breach the security of chip cards. And it is the chip itself that has become the focus of the fraudsters through chip burning.

Traditional credit and debit cards used data that is statically stored on the card’s magnetic stripe. A chip card, officially called the EMV®[1] standard (short for Europay, Mastercard ®[2], and Visa®[3]), is considered to be more secure.

The microchip embedded in these cards turns your account information into a unique one-time code when used at a chip-enabled terminal, which makes it difficult for fraudsters to duplicate or copy.

Chip burning is the practice of stealing a valid chip from an EMV card and placing it on an old credit or debit card which is then used for fraudulent purchases.

Chip technology may be more secure, but that doesn’t mean the cards are hack-proof.

Debbie Guild

According to an alert issued by the U.S. Secret Service to financial institutions, criminals have been intercepting mail containing new debit cards and removing the chip using a heat source to warm the glue. The fraudster replaces that chip on the new cards with an old or invalid chip. The tampered card is then sent along to the legitimate account holder. The fraudster places the stolen chip on an old payment card and waits. When the legitimate account holder activates the card, the criminal drains funds from the associated accounts.

Chip credit card

“Chip technology may be more secure, but that doesn’t mean the cards are hack-proof. Cardholders and merchants must always remain vigilant and observant," said Debbie Guild, chief security officer at PNC Bank.

Signs of tampering on a chip card include:

  • Heat damage around the chip – notice the presence of burn marks.

  • Heat damage on the card – the plastic has bubbled from the heat.

  • Small hole in the plastic used to pry the chip off the card.

“Any new or replacement payment chip card received in the mail should be inspected for signs of chip burning prior to activation,” said Guild.

Instances of suspected chip burning on a payment card should be reported to the issuing bank or financial institution. Information relative to chip burning can also be forwarded to the Global Investigative Operations Center (GIOC) at GIOC@usss.dhs.gov, or by contacting 202-406-6009.


Learn how to report fraud »

Debbie Guild
Stop and check before you activate any new microchip card, advises PNC Chief Security Officer Debbie Guild.

If you suspect fraudulent activity on your account, it's important that you take action immediately. PNC customers should contact your branch or account representative, or call our toll-free number 1-888-PNC-BANK right away to report the situation.

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Important Legal Disclosures and Information

1. EMV is a registered trademark of EMVCo in the United States and is an unregistered trademark in other countries.

2. MasterCard is a registered trademark of MasterCard International, Inc.

3. Visa is a registered trademark of Visa International Service Association and used under license.

These articles are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting or financial advice. PNC urges its customers to do independent research and to consult with financial and legal professionals before making any financial decisions.

This site may provide reference to Internet sites as a convenience to our readers. While PNC endeavors to provide resources that are reputable and safe, we cannot be held responsible for the information, products or services obtained on such sites and will not be liable for any damages arising from your access to such sites. The content, accuracy, opinions expressed and links provided by these resources are not investigated, verified, monitored or endorsed by PNC.