apple pay on apple watch

It seems to happen more and more often. A retail store is breached and loses its customers credit card numbers. Use Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or another smartphone payment solution and you’d be immune to these breaches.

We’re not endorsing any one solution here. Use Apple Pay if you have an iPhone, Android Pay if you have an Android phone, Samsung Pay if you have a Samsung phone, and so on. They all have the same security advantage.

The Problem

RELATED: How to Set up Apple Pay and Google Wallet on Your Phone

Traditional credit card payment systems have a big security problem. The store gets your credit card number, name, and expiration data. Anyone who gets access to this data has everything they need to start making purchases on your card.

This same problem occurs online, of course — enter your credit card details into a web page and anyone who grabs those details can make purchases with that card.

If only there was some sort of way to pay someone without giving up information that allows people to charge more money to your card in the future. There is — that’s how Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and similar services work.

Security is the Real Reason to Pay With Your Smartphone

Smartphone payment systems — sometimes referred to as “digital wallets” — are a bit unwieldy. Why set up a new app and try paying with your phone at various stores when you know your credit card will work absolutely everywhere as long as the business isn’t cash-only?

That’s a fair criticism to make — the “convenience” arguments in favor of paying with your phone don’t make much sense when you’ll have to carry your plastic credit card around with you anyway.

The real reason to set up Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or whatever other solution you have available to you is security.

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Why It’s More Secure

RELATED: How to Setup and Use Apple Pay on Your Apple Watch

You can read the technical details of how Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and other smartphone payment systems work online.

In summary, all of these services are more secure than traditional plastic card-based payments. When you use one of these apps to pay from your smartphone, the retailer never gets your actual credit card number. Instead, they get a virtual card number and a one-time-use code that allows them to charge something to your card only once.

If that retailer’s payment data database is compromised in the future, the attackers wouldn’t be able to charge anything else to your card. They just don’t have what they need to do it — they’d need your phone to generate another one-time-use code.

You can also use Apple Pay from an Apple Watch. Android Pay can’t yet be used from Android Wear smartwatches. Samsung’s Gear S2 smartwatch is partially compatible with Samsung Pay.

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How to Pay From Your Smartphone

You don’t have to pay any extra fees to use smartphone-based payment systems. You just need a phone and a card that supports the payment platform your phone offers.

Not every store currently supports these payment systems, but more stores are getting on board every day. Apple’s launch of Apple Pay has given smartphone-based payment systems a much-needed kick.

Set up the payment solution on your phone — Apple Pay is included iPhones, Android Pay can be installed on phones running Android 4.4 and up, Samsung pay is included on various Samsung phones, and so on. Not every bank will allow you to add your credit card to these services, either.

These services aren’t widely available outside the USA at the moment, either. Apple Pay is available in the USA and UK at the moment, Android Pay — the replacement for Google Wallet — is also only available in the USA. Samsung Pay is available in the USA and Korea.

But, if you’ve been unable to find a reason why you should bother setting up smartphone payments, here it is. The more payments you make with your smartphone instead of a plastic card, the less odds that you’ll have to dispute charges and get a new credit card number when a breach occurs.

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If you’ve been shopping online for years, you’ve probably used something similar. PayPal — despite all the valid criticisms that can be leveled against this service — works a bit similarly. Rather than give your credit card to a website you may not completely trust, you can send a single payment to it via PayPal.

Paying via PayPal or a similar service is more secure because you’re not just handing out your credit card details to every store you do business with. The same applies to Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and other services.

This is particularly important if you’re paying with debit cards that have direct access to your bank account instead of credit cards, which offer more protections.

Image Credit: Shinya Suzuki on Flickr. Product images from Apple, Google, and Samsung.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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