Safeway 'Tap to Pay' charges Bay Area woman's credit card while it's still in her purse

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Thursday, April 13, 2023
Safeway 'Tap to Pay' charges woman's card while it's still in purse
Many credit cards today let you make a purchase just by tapping the card. It's convenient and quick, but is it secure?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Many credit cards today let you make a purchase just by tapping the card. It's convenient and quick, but is it secure? A Bay Area woman has doubts, after a card reader at the grocery store reached into her purse and charged her credit card -- without her knowing it!

It raised a lot of concern - and questions about how this could happen. These credit cards use radio waves, or RFID technology, to let you pay by tapping. It's supposed to charge a card only if it's within a few centimeters of the card reader. So this customer was shocked when she went through checkout at Safeway and the cashier said - don't bother, you already paid!

Destiny M is still fuming. Her credit card was charged at the grocery checkout -- without her knowing it

"I did not authorize a charge on my credit card. Period," Destiny said. "I felt violated."

It began with a routine trip to Safeway.

"I got a thing of mixed berries, I got some long green beans," she said.

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As usual, she paid for the groceries with cash -- or tried to.

"I took out the money, handed it to the cashier, and she takes the money and looks at the register and says, 'Oh, they already charged your American Express card,'" Destiny said.

But how could that happen? Her credit card was still tucked inside her purse.

"She goes, 'Oh it does that sometimes, and there's nothing I can do about it,'" she said.

Sure enough, the Tap to Pay system reached into her purse and charged her credit card, without her knowing it. The charge shows up right there on the receipt, and later on her credit card statement.

She wasn't out any money -- but it was troubling.

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"And the next day, now I can't stop thinking about it, because it's just wrong," Destiny said.

After all, she says it was an unauthorized charge on her card, which she didn't want to use.

"They stole my personal information without my permission and my knowledge," she said.

She filed a fraud dispute with American Express, a police report, a complaint with the district attorney's office -- and she called Safeway.

"She goes, 'It's all your fault. You should have had your credit cards protected.' And I went, 'Wow,'" Destiny said.

Destiny still isn't sure how it happened.

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Turns out her card has the newer RFID technology that lets you pay by tapping it on a payment terminal.

Those cards have a symbol that looks like a series of curved lines.

A store's payment terminal will pick up the radio frequency in the card to process a one-time payment.

But the readers are only supposed to charge when a customer taps the card or holds it within a few centimeters of the panel.

Safeway did not say why its reader charged her card while it was in her purse, or how often this has happened, telling us:

"A customer may inadvertently place their wallet or purse over a point-of-sale terminal causing the payment to be applied to a credit card stored inside (a) wallet. We take corrective action when this occurs... as this technology is present in retailers of all sizes, this situation extends beyond Safeway."

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Consumer advocates say Destiny's experience seems rare, but could be growing.

"This is something that's happening, and it's happened to friends of mine and colleagues of mine," said Ed Mierzwinski of the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG).

"People have got to be aware that if you've got chip cards and they're out there in your wallet, turns out they can be read outside of the grocery store machine," Mierzwinski said.

Destiny now shields her credit cards with an aluminum sleeve.

"But you know, so much of this is about principle, and that's a losing battle," she said.

Safeway did not say how often its card readers inadvertently charge a customer's credit cards. If it's happened to you there, or at any retail store, let 7 On Your Side know about it. We'll follow up.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.



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