For all those men who put their wallets in their back pants pocket and over time warp their credit cards, there is now a card reader that can literally straighten those cards out so they can be used.
The new reader also hinders fraud and vandalism by preventing people from stuffing cut-up cards or other items in self-service readers at gas pumps or pay phones.
The device on the new readers is called a fraud ramp and was developed by American Magnetics, a Cypress, Calif., division of Axiohm Inc. of Ithaca, N.Y. The company has been designing point of sale card readers since 1972, when it developed the first card reader for magnetic stripe cards. The new reader, which takes both magnetic stripe and chip cards, was developed in response to client demand for ways to stop certain types of fraud.
Fraud is actually dropping on a percentage basis, according to Visa U.S.A. In 1992 Visa did U.S. sales of $190.4 billion and showed a net fraud rate of 0.18%. In 2000 its sales had climbed to $810.5 billion and the fraud rate had fallen to 0.07%.
Still, some merchants are more vulnerable than others. Some business customers complained to American Magnetics that people would stick a long, thin piece of plastic into a phone reader, which would bend back into the reader. When a customer inserted a card into the reader slot, the card would ride along on the piece of plastic and get stuck.
The person will walk away in frustration, and the fraudster will come back with tweezers and take the card, said Jim Johnson, a senior mechanical design engineer for the company and the readers inventor. The device was patented last month.
Another problem that the reader solves is when vandals shove items like Popsicle sticks or half cards into the readers just for the heck of it. Mr. Johnson said people will sometimes for no apparent reason other than to be mischievous split a calling card in half once it has expired and stick half the card into the reader slot. The fraud ramp allows the half cards to fall out of the bottom of the reader in the machines so that they do not disable it.
American Magnetics made the mistake of not patenting that concept when researchers developed it in 1998 for clients in South America, where prepaid phone cards are widely used. It turned out this feature became so popular, there are maybe four or five companies that make readers that copy that half-card dropout feature, said George Steele, the companys director of research and development.
It was in the course of this anti-fraud development effort that researchers discovered the solution for warped cards a bonus. We tried to solve both issues in one shot, Mr. Johnson said. Customers had complained that machines could not read warped cards, he said.
Mr. Johnson said his team bounced a lot of ideas around, including using metal clips that mounted on the chassis, the framework of the reader. But they were flimsy or eliminated the half-card dropout solution, he said.
Another attempt involved a long ramp from one of the chassis, which was overkill, he said. The idea that worked was to have two short ramps on either side of the chassis. The smaller ramps maintain the half-card dropout, and thats why its the more popular solution, Mr. Johnson said.
The ramp straightens out cards long enough to be read, but they will bow again when removed from the reader. Mr. Steele said the ramp deflects the card back to the natural card slot or natural card path, pushing it back in place.