Your credit card may soon have an on-off switch

Emerging technology gives consumers the ability to turn their credit and debit cards on and off through a smartphone app, a capability that can not only help families and businesses control how authorized users shop with the card but also, and perhaps more importantly, help prevent card fraud.

One of the companies developing this tool is Ondot Systems, which works with payment processors to make the technology available to banks and their customers. The on-off function, in addition to other control preferences, is available to cardholders through their bank or credit union’s mobile app. Some financial services companies are working to develop their own technologies as well.

A remote control for your credit card

“The basic idea is very simple,” said Rachna Ahlawat, founder and executive vice president of products at Ondot Systems. “Almost everybody has a credit or debit card in their wallet, and most everybody has a smartphone, so what we essentially created is a remote control for the cards they already have in their wallet.”

With CardControl, the primary accountholder has a suite of preferences at his or her fingertips, Ahlawat explained. There’s the simple on-off switch, which prevents any transaction when a card is turned off, whether it’s in a bricks-and-mortar store or a card-not-present transaction, such as a phone or Internet order. If someone attempts to use the card when it’s off, the cardholder receives an alert — if he was trying to use it but forgot to turn the card on, the cardholder can just flip the switch on his smartphone. Otherwise, the cardholder has just been alerted to attempted unauthorized use of his card.

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