Banks and retailers are gearing up for the imminent pilot of the UK's first major consumer smartcard project in Northampton.
Credit and debit card holders in the town are in the process of being issued with new cards containing a chip that will authenticate a four-digit Pin typed on a keypad by the customer at the checkout.
The £1.1bn fraud busting scheme will replace the magnetic strip card and signed receipt that APACS, the industry body for clearing houses including Bacs and Chaps, said is a major reason for the UK's annual £411m card losses.
Issues over the payment for the scheme appear to have been resolved, with the banks and stores electing to share the costs.
Over 1,000 retailers will take part in the trial, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Shell, Esso and Dixons.
It will kick off sometime in the spring and, if successful, the banks will aim to roll out the smart cards nationally by 2005.
The UK is someway behind other countries in Europe, such as France, which have been using the Pin method for 10 years.
Duncan Brown, consulting director at analyst Ovum, described the rollout as long overdue.
"Magnetic strip cards are hilariously easy to copy and the chip and Pin technology is well-proven and mature," he said.
Brown predicted that other services are likely to be added to the cards in future.
"One of the interesting prospects is that, once you have a smartcard in everyone's pocket, you have the potential to add other things, such as loyalty card schemes," he said.
A spokesman for the chip and Pin scheme would only say that the project is still "on track" for a spring launch, and that the banks and retailers are currently still in the "planning and testing stage".
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