Coin is a startup that View from the Wing and I wrote about last year. It purports to make juggling a handful of credit and debit cards easier by letting you copy all the card information onto a single device, letting you switch between the cards you want to use for individual transactions. There have been many criticisms of it:
- Potential security flaws (Coin stores your card data, and its encryption standards are unclear)
- Potential legal issues (card issuers don’t want you cloning your own cards, and nefarious individuals might use it to skim other peoples’ cards)
- Potential obsolescence (many card issuers are moving to Chip + PIN or Chip + Signature in 2015, which will make cloning difficult or impossible)
Early backers like Gary and I were promised our Coin this summer, but the company has failed yet again by offering us “beta” cards that may lack all of the features originally promised. We would have to wait until next year to get a full-featured version, though beta testers can get the next release at a discounted price.
For the record, I don’t care. I figured it would be a gamble when I put down my $50 (the current price is $75). I don’t plan to use most of the features. I don’t even plan to use it to clone my credit cards. Most of the time I just carry three or four anyway. I really just thought it was a cool toy.
One feature has caught my attention that didn’t seem obvious before. Though I originally thought this might be useful to carry with me different credit cards to maximize their various bonus categories, I now think it might be more useful for cloning pre-paid gift cards.
I’ve complained about the hassle of manufactured spend before. I don’t do much of it, and I leave it to Amol and Tahsir to discuss it on the few occasions it’s mentioned on this blog. Even before I sold my car it was a huge hassle to go to Walmart to load my Bluebird. We never had an easy supply of Vanilla Reloads in Seattle ever since Office Depot pulled them as there are no CVS stores in the area. I know there are some better ideas, but the only trick I use is liquidating gift cards for money orders.
The problem is that most of the places I go to buy money orders are very suspicious of gift cards. Some let them slide. Usually I get a lecture. Rather than carry a brightly colored piece of plastic with a ribbon on top, it might make more sense to clone several gift cards onto a more discreet piece of black plastic.
Coin still doesn’t have a signature strip or any card numbers on the front — printed or embossed. It’s just a piece of plastic with a small LCD window in the corner. This could still be a problem for some merchants who aren’t familiar with the concept. But anything that doesn’t say “GIFT CARD” on the front in big letters is an improvement. Coin might be good enough for the next year or so before EMV chips become more common, a transition I think that may lead to some changes for manufactured spend that go far beyond Coin and its flaws.