Curious about how people pay for things with just a tap of their phone? It’s called NFC payment technology and it’s actually easier and safer than many people think. NFC stands for “Near Field Communication.” It allows devices within close proximity (usually 2-4 inches apart) to interact and exchange information. NFC technology is used in contactless cards, mobile phones, card terminals and other payment devices.

During the pandemic, using cards with tap-enabled technology became popular, allowing people to make payments without having to worry about transferring germs. NFC technology using smart phones uses the same technology with payment apps on phones that allow tap-to-pay transactions.

How NFC payments work

The top two NFC mobile apps in use today are Apple Pay for iPhones and Google Pay for Android phones.  The apps are set up so they store the data for bank accounts, credit cards, or debit cards in the mobile device. The tech for how NFC tap-and-pay works then is pretty simple. The payment app utilizes radio frequency waves from your smart phone (similar to RFID technology) that only work at very close distances. The payment terminal and your phone pass encrypted data back and forth, enabling the purchase to occur seamlessly and quickly.

Are Apple Pay and Google Pay safe?

Yes, in fact many people consider NFC mobile payment apps more secure than using chip and PIN debit card payments. When you use NFC payments to purchase something, your phone only connects with one other device at a time, so there is no chance of paying for somebody else’s goods. Beyond that, there are several more layers of security:

  • Mobile devices encrypt your personal information and these encryptions are changed with every NFC transaction.
  • During the transaction, the full number of the card being used is never revealed. So even if someone intercepts the information, they won’t have access to card details.
  • Finally, all phones should be set up with security passcodes or fingerprint/biometric locks. Therefore, even if your phone is stolen, the device will be inaccessible. (Want some tips for setting up strong passwords? Try this.)