Different visa cards
Different visa cards
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Really good answer there from Dana H. Shultz
I’ll just add a little more detail. Basically electron cards were created so they cannot be used in an “offline” environment. What does that mean?
There are merchants in the world who don’t have permanent connections to the Visa network. For example, duty free shopping on aeroplanes or ships. These payment points are “offline” – they can’t go away and verify your account has enough money to cover what you are paying for immediately (“authorisation” as its called). Instead they will store details of the card until the money can be debited later. Of course, nowadays, this is all done by chip and PIN or magstripe reading terminals. However, back in the old days you may have seen a merchant use one of these :-
Never seen one? Its called a zipzap device ! 🙂 The merchant puts your card in, places a piece of printing paper over the top and makes a kind of impression of your card on it – therefore making a sales record document with your card details on. They keep a copy and use it for manually placing a billing record into the Visa system later on. See here for a demo of how one is used if you are interested-
Its a lovely old fashioned bit of kit that you rarely see used nowadays.
However, a few years back, before 3G connectivity ,fast internet and chip and pin machines, people making payments using cards were very regularly doing so via zipzap (or “offline”). The chances of customers then running into their overdraft was somewhat high. Of course, there are some customers who could not be authorized for an overdraft – but yet banks still wanted to issue debit cards to them.
So in 1985, the Electron “mark” was designed as an answer to the “offline but no overdraft or credit” problem. It was designed to be used only in places where merchant equipment could go “online” and send an authorization message to check there were enough funds to cover the purchase. Visa Electron cards virtually always feature a special code in their magstripes to tell terminals “you MUST go and check for available funds” when they are swiped. Also, crucially, unless they carry a chip, they are never embossed. Embossed simply means, printed with raised up numbers and details. Heres what i mean:-
(“flat” card numbers printed onto the plastic directly)
Visa “Fully flagged”
(Notice the numbers are raised up if you could run your finger over them)
Why the difference? Simply so that the electron card cannot be used in a zipzap machine! The zipzap needs the raised up, embossed numbers to be copied onto the paper properly.
To be honest , now in the days of chip and pin and better connectivity, electron cards I suspect are probably becoming less and less common. Indeed, I remember hearing a few years ago a debate about whether Visa would phase them out (maybe they did? maybe someone can comment?)