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I obtained a pin-and-chip credit card from the Andrews Federal Credit union to smooth transactions in Europe. However, it doesn't quite work as intended in the UK. Every single time that I use it, the reader successfully talks to the chip -- and then insists on printing a slip for me to sign. They never solicit my pin. The card does have a PIN, AFCU sent it to me and on a trip to Austria I used it.

AFCU customer support denies that there's any issue that they can address.

Is this generally true of US chip-and-pin cards, or is there something perhaps peculiar of the AFCU offering?

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    Just a side note, last October I had problems using chip-and-pin card from UK bank in Australia. The chip part worked, but every time I attempted to use the pin, it would get declined. If I used signature, then the transactions would go ahead. The UK bank denied any issues and stated that the issue was with the Australian merchant (or about 20 of them in my case). – Aleks G Jul 16 '14 at 15:27
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It appears that yes, where chip-and-signature is available, it will be preferred over chip-and-PIN, even for true EMV cards such as the AFCU GlobeTrek Rewards Visa.


AFCU's GlobeTrek page does indicate that

may be asked to enter your PIN to complete the transaction. Or you may be asked to sign for your transaction.

According to CardHub.com, a US-based website specializing in allowing consumers to compare credit cards,

VISA and MasterCard require that all attended point-of-sale machines be equipped to accept chip-and-signature transactions

Anecdotal reports suggest that such terminals are furthermore programmed to prefer chip-and-signature authentication by default. So while the AFCU card has true chip-and-PIN capabilities— unlike most new chip cards in the U.S.— you will still end up signing payment slips in shops, restaurants, and other places where a human is handling the transaction. If chip-and-sig is not available, as at a fuel kiosk or train ticket vending machine, then the chip-and-PIN system is used.

As you know, the U.S. is the last industrialized country still to use magnetic stripe cards, but there are various barriers discouraging a shift to chip-and-PIN. For example, ATMs would need to be upgraded to handle chip card PINs, and of course, being the U.S., there are questions of liability. Thus, the industry response to the Christmas 2013 fiasco at Target Stores is to move to the simpler chip-and-signature technology first, a preference that will surely reflect in equipment settings and software.

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    Since there are several known and feasible attacks against chip & PIN authorization, it is perhaps not even a bad idea that merchant terminals default to chip and signature instead. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 16 '14 at 16:36
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    How do you explain that locals with a European chip-and-PIN card enter the PIN rather than signing then? @Tor-EinarJarnbjo These attacks are only worse on chip-and-signature. Chip-and-PIN is not safe enough to be foolproof the way some banks claim, but it's an improvement on what was there before. – Gilles Jul 16 '14 at 17:15
  • @Gilles Are European chip-and-PIN cards capable of chip-and-signature transactions? If so, I have no explanation. – choster Jul 16 '14 at 17:19
  • @Gilles: In most European countries, before chip cards became common, a PIN was still required and verified online by the issuing bank. With the chip, at least in theory, the PIN can be verified by the card without a connection to the banking network, but since the amount in most cases is still authorized by the issuing bank, a network connection is still needed and delegating the PIN verification to the card instead of doing that online as well is actually a loss of security. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 16 '14 at 17:42
  • My understanding is that most UK-issued chip-and-signature cards are issued to people who have difficulties with using chip-and-PIN machines. Some are both chip/sign and chip/PIN so that they can be used in machine-only situations (e.g. ATMs, parking, rail ticket machines). For this reason, the terminals are configured to prefer chip-and-signature verification if it is available on the card to chip-and-PIN verification. US cards are generally chip-and-signature, but there's no way for an EMV card to specify a preference between authentication methods. – Richard Gadsden Jul 19 '14 at 18:26

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