The virtual card
The same technology used in contactless payment cards is what powers two of the mobile wallets on the market today, Google Wallet and Isis. These virtual wallets on smartphones allow users to upload their payment cards and tap and pay with the phone.
Two other mobile wallets, Square and LevelUp, use other technology. Square makes use of a mobile app that allows users to send a picture of themselves to a retailer to authorize a payment. (Square also makes a small, square-shaped card reader that attaches to iPhones, Androids and iPads for point-of-sale purchases.) LevelUp also is an app that sends a code to users who scan it at checkout to complete a purchase.
All mobile wallet technologies can be used only at participating retailers.
Mobile payments eliminate card skimming, since the user holds onto the smartphone throughout the entire transaction. Smartphones also come with their own security features, such as PINs or passwords that lock the phone. And some smartphone providers allow owners to shut down their phone remotely, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Vanderhoof says that if EMV cards take off, mobile wallet providers will need to alter their technology to allow EMV cards to be uploaded on smartphones to process transactions. That would make mobile wallets even more secure, he says.