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Programmable credit cards such as Plastc are gamble in mobile payments

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Q: I keep seeing ads for the Plastc electronic credit card device. Do they work and are they safe?

The mobile payment landscape is constantly changing as the industry tries to figure out what people will actually use and Plastc is something I view as an interim device until our smartphones become a more viable payment device.

Several companies have been trying to provide a convenient device that would allow you to consolidate all your credit, debit, gift and loyalty cards on one card.

Coin was one of the first programmable credit cards available, but it had its issues and has been acquired by Fitbit, so they are no longer available.

I actually purchased the Coin device and tried using it, but found that some magnetic card readers just couldn’t read it, so I ended up having to carry my physical cards anyway.

Some of the issues that Coin users complained about appear to be addressed with Plastc’s approach to the device, but until they actually ship a working product, the jury is still out.

Plastc was supposed to have shipped in April, but production delays now have them estimating a launch for the product sometime in August or September of this year.

Coin only had a magnetic stripe while the Plastc card is designed to also include the EMV chip standard (which won’t be functional at launch) along with VISA NFC capabilities.

Digital smart card advantages

While the obvious value of not having to carry around a stack of cards is clear (Plastc can store up to 20 different cards), there are other advantages to this type of device.

The magnetic stripe is programmable, so unless you unlock the card, there is nothing to read. This means, if you lose the card, it can’t be used by anyone else unless they know your unlock PIN.

You can put it in lock mode before handing it to a merchant, which keeps it on your chosen card and only displays the last four digits for additional security.

The back of the card shows your signature and your picture, which could reduce the number of times you are asked for your driver’s license.

They also incorporate proximity alerts so if your smartphone and your smart card are separated by more than 100 feet, your phone will get a left-behind reminder.

It can be setup to automatically wipe the card if it’s separated from your smartphone for a time increment you choose that can range from one hour to several days.

If you regain possession of the wiped card, you just re-sync with the Plastc Wallet app on your phone to restore all of your card information.

The app also stores an unlimited number of cards, makes it easy to swap cards and tracks your spending.

Should you order one?

We won’t know how well it works until it’s launched, so you’ll have to decide whether you want to take advantage of their pre-order discounts or wait to see the hands-on reviews. It’s a gamble in either case.