Cash is king, as the saying goes, but the king may soon be dethroned. Both Visa and MasterCard plan bold new strategies in the war on cash – one defensive and one boldly offensive. MasterCard will soon embed biometric scanners in their cards to fight fraud, and Visa plans to attack directly by offering a $10,000 incentive to any restaurant that agrees to refuse physical money. The credit card companies are hitting hard currency where it hurts while simultaneously addressing some of the main arguments against going without physical money.
One of the chief complaints about cards is the ease of fraud. Unwittingly pass your debit card through a skimmer or give a waiter your credit card, and you may have your information up for sale to the highest bidder within minutes. Scammers can easily produce a realistic working copy of your card and treat themselves to a shopping spree. While credit card companies have developed several tricks over the years, each has its weakness. Even the vaunted chip technology can’t prevent fraudulent purchases online – and that’s when the chip doesn’t simply fall out.
According to The Verge, MasterCard is looking to add biometric scanning on top of their already impressive slew of security features. Similar to how one can use a smart phone for payment with thumbprint authentication, MasterCard is currently testing pilot versions of the card in South Africa. The article goes on to point out, however, that even fingerprints are relatively easy to spoof if a criminal can find a way to take your print. A Personal Identification Number (PIN) is easily changeable, but if your fingerprint is spoofed just once in your entire life, you are out of luck.
On a more aggressive note, Visa has announced that they are attempting to convince restaurant owners to refuse cash payments entirely. How? They’ve offered to pay $10,000 for new point of sale systems. According to MSN, “Consumers at those stores would be able to pay for goods or services only with debit or credit cards or with their cellphones. In exchange, Visa is offering to pay for upgrades to merchants’ technology at the checkout line so that they can accept contactless payments, such as Apple Pay. The $10,000 incentive can also help cover some of the merchants’ marketing expenses.” This carrot approach could help to hasten the day when society widely abandons cash.
Why should liberty-loving people be alarmed at the all or nothing strategy being adopted by these companies? According to a Gallup poll, only a quarter of Americans make most or all of their purchases will cash compared to a third just five years prior. At this rate, cash as we know it may very well go extinct within another generation or so. This would be a tragedy according to many voices. In addition to the privacy concerns, digitizing all forms of money could make taxation through negative inflation rates or simply through digital seizure a common occurrence. According to the National Review, “Abolish physical cash, and what’s left of individual liberty would fray very quickly.”
Right now, consumers have a choice when it comes to how they pay for most goods and services. However, absent a strong backlash against establishments that refuse to accept cash, the trend may become unstoppable. While some may scoff at Biblical prophesies predicting a “mark of the beast” required to buy or sell anything, a cashless society seems a necessary prerequisite.