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Plastc will cease operations and will not fulfill any pre-orders (plastc.com)
130 points by jedberg on Apr 20, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments

"In 2011 after buying a pair of sneakers, then a fruit smoothie and noticing a Google Wallet icon on the cash register, Marquis asked the cashier how many people actually paid with their phones. The cashier responded that so far 2-3 people per month were using it...

Immediately the lightbulb went on in Ryan’s mind that there was a significant shift happening in the market from a physical credit card to digital payments. His mind went wild as he dreamed about what the future of digital payments could look like and within a short time after he launched Plastc." [1]

So, after shopping at a store that sells fruit smoothies and sneakers (?), and being told that nobody cares enough about a universal credit card to use the free Google Wallet one, he concluded that the future is a universal credit card that people will pay hundreds of dollars for?

Only in Silicon Valley...

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bryan-elliott/plastc-one-card-...

It wasn't going to be so much that, as a card that you could put multiple credit cards on, but that still functioned entirely like a credit card - meaning it could be swiped in vending machines, by waitresses, and everywhere that accepts cards, without the need for an apple pay or google pay or whatever NFC payment hardware.

It's for people that keep multiple cards in their wallet.

> everywhere that accepts cards

Given the shift to chip-and-PIN, which can't be emulated like this -- Plastc claimed they could but never demonstrated it (because it's impossible) -- they were way too late to market with this idea even 3 years ago.

And if merchants are going to roll out new POS hardware they might as well jump to NFC as it leapfrogs cards on convenience. And security, if your device implements tokenization and fingerprints-instead-of-PINs (like Apple Pay and others). Also it's built in to lots of phones and watches now.

I don't know what was promised by Plastc exactly but I assume you need to register your card numbers somewhere (like with Apple Pay) and then when you use your Plastc card to pay (with chip and PIN or not), their back-end issues a payment transaction using the selected card. Am I wrong?

Over here in Europe we have Curve that does exactly that, without the fancy hardware: https://www.imaginecurve.com

Yes, that is not what Plastc was. Plastc was like copying the data from the front of your card and displaying it on a different one (mag-strip included).

Got it. EMV is clearly an issue then, I see the problem.

Curve has its own card number. The closest thing to Curve here was a card called Wallaby. It somehow redirected charges from one card to another... I think they were getting creative with the processing rules and got shot down. Not sure how Curve does it exactly but I'm skeptical of their long term viability. Either they're similarly creative or they are acting like a merchant and recharging every transaction and eating some interchange. Maybe they get away with that more in Europe where interchange is low but it's still a net loss.

Anyway Plastc was about trying to actually emulate a card. All this has been leapfrogged by Apple and Samsung Pay.

As far as I understand, Curve is viable due to the fact they issue corporate cards (you can see "for commercial use only" on their cards).

Europe has capped interchange fees to 0.2% and 0.3% for debit and credit cards respectively. However, three-party schemes (like Amex) and corporate cards are exempt and charge more. But you're right, I'm not sure how MasterCard is happy with that (since the product is clearly targeted at consumers).

I see, so they're charging merchants high corporate card interchange and then recharging the consumer card. Yeah, that's sketchy. I wonder if they're pocketing the difference.

> Given the shift to chip-and-PIN, which can't be emulated like this -- Plastc claimed they could but never demonstrated it (because it's impossible)

If they'd had a whole lot of market share already, maybe they could have persuaded issuers to provide private keys in some way that could be imported into the Plastc device (which might itself then have a tamper-resistant smartcard processor like the one in the individual chip cards).

Horrible security and wouldn't work for the most secure chip and PIN cards which never share their private key. Apple Pay's approach is better: issuer assigns a unique number to the device along with its own authentication scheme, rather than trying to emulate another.

Yeh, this always seemed doomed outside the US, which in general appears to be ahead of the US for card security. Especially in AU, I don't even really go to bars with cash any more, I just use contactless payment with my card literally everywhere. Coffee, lunch, bars, etc. - pretty much everywhere has paypass/paywave now and has for years.

Even three years ago, the writing was surely on the wall that they were exploiting weaknesses in old tech to pull off their product, so there was an obvious sunset on their ability to operate their core product. Why would they invest in something that already has an end date on it?

Even though I have a contactless card, I still prefer cash because it reminds me how much I'm spending. It's all too easy to tap away $40 several times a month and wonder where it all went.

I found the opposite was true.. Having cash in my wallet meant I didn't know where it got spent (not specifically in bars though, just in general so maybe we're talking about different things).

With tap + debit, I can track all my individual transactions via services like Mint, plus my bank sends me an email on every transaction that happens to my accounts, so I have redundant logging of where all my money goes.

I find that both of you are right and this is why I'm always broke.

> Given the shift to chip-and-PIN, which can't be emulated like this

I don't know the tech behind it but this Dutch startup is doing exactly that: https://www.bunq.com/en/

From the looks of it, Bunq is a bank. I didn't see the product you are talking about but I suppose it may be like a payment processor forwarding orders to third parties. Plastc is a purely technical solution, it has a rewritable magnetic strip so you can copy any card to it, not just payment cards. You can't do it with chips because chips are designed to be impossible to copy. They have secret keys inside and I don't think card providers are willing to reveal them and weaken their security.

I think emulation could be possible with SDA cards. SDA is part of the EMV spec but I'm not sure how many cards these days support SDA applications.

What makes it impossible to emulate?

IIRC Chip and Pin uses a challenge-response type set up with public key crypto to authenticate your card with your bank. You cannot clone that, as processing is done on the card - not the reader, and the card never reveals it's secrets.


"To rip it off, someone would have to get into the physical chip circuit and manipulate things to get your bank information. Not only is this level of data surgery really difficult, but it also requires a set of high-tech equipment that can cost north of $1 million."

That's presumably " … cost north of $1million in 2016, rumoured to have been done in 2017 by Bunny with $10 worth of decapping acid and a borrowed STEM revealing implementation details and flaws, then with a demonstrated contactless remote exploit working on a RaspberryPi with a $12 USB TV tuner and a hand-wound antenna at CCC or DefCon in 2018"...

So, not $10 if you needed a borrowed, expensive piece of equipment. It is not possible for most of us to jaunt out and borrow a fancy microscope. That only underscores the "expensive equipment required argument". The contactless payment hack is much more practical, though. (Oh you also need far beyond average hardware hacking knowledge and skill, which itself is generally more difficult to acquire and learn ).

They go for about $10k-$30k on EBay. But people have also DIY'd their own: http://makezine.com/2011/03/24/diy-scanning-electron-microsc...

Or free - if you're in the right place at the right time (and have the right reputation and friends...):


Sure - but people _are_ doing this at home with stuff they buy off eBay right now: http://zacsblog.aperturelabs.com/2013/02/decapping-integrate...

And as for "far beyond average hardware hacking skill", I suspect if you got Bunny Huang, Michael Ossmann, and Travis Goodspeed together and curious - this might well be broken in a single weekend! ;-)

Your link just describes decapping and reading the state of mask programmable PROM. Reverse engineering a secure IC and coming up with an exploit is several orders (like 10) of magnitude more involved.

So if the first takes a day, the latter - 10 million days?

But seriously, difficulty also implies required skill and equipment.

Great point. So for Plastc to work, all you'd have to do is mail in your card so they can treat it with acid and run it through a scanning transmission electron microscope, destroying it in the process.

I have no idea why they went under.

I was always bemused about this idea that putting multiple credit cards on a single physical card is some great feature that a lot of people want and would pay money for.

In my experience, having many credit cards is a complete pain to manage, because for each card you need to monitor the statement, set up the automatic payment (or do it manually), change the address when you move, etc, etc, and no sane person is going to want to do that for lots of cards. The fact that it also fills you your wallet is really the least of the problems you'll have.

It's nice to have one card as a backup, and some hardcore churners / points collectors are going to want 5 or 6 cards and use different cards for different categories... but they're real niches, it's not something that a mainstream, mass market consumer is going to want to manage.

I have a Curve card, which is essentially this. I paid for the beta and got a free wallet out of it (a nice Tumi one) and £50 in reward points so overall I've actually profited from it. There isn't a monthly charge (yet). Curve is a prepaid Mastercard that acts as a middle man. You spend, it charges whichever card is currently selected. You get extra benefits like zero fees abroad, cash withdrawals, etc.

There is also a reward program which is OK if you shop at the places where you get points, but it's no different to signing your card up to a cashback program like Quidco. There are a few big names like Boots, Waterstones and B&Q where I go reasonably often. https://www.imaginecurve.com/curve-rewards-web/

The main advantage to me is security. If your card gets stolen, you can revoke it within minutes without worrying about someone having access to your debit card. Because it's linked to the app, you can see immediately when transactions happen. You can do the same with a debit card of course, but it's an added layer of obfuscation.

Originally it was supposed to be an amazing loophole for American Express users. You could spend Amex everywhere including on cash withdrawals and rack up points like nobody's business. Then Amex pulled out, so that was a bummer. A lot of people on HeadForPoints got very annoyed and felt like they'd been suckered in. To be fair to Curve, they compensated everyone.

I believe you can still use it to withdraw cash on credit cards though, so there's still a way to manufacture points spend.

I use mine daily and while it's fine 95% of the time, there have been sporadic occasions where it's been declined. You can't use it at pay-at-pump petrol stations, for instance. It's not reliable enough yet that I can go around with only a single card in my wallet (which sort of ruins the idea of it). It's really useful for traveling abroad though.

So, for reference, I'm a guy who has multiple cards. I have two debit cards and a credit card.

The credit card is a credit card (and I mostly use it for company purchases that get reimbursed).

The two debit cards correspond to two different checking accounts. I have a "main" checking account that my check gets deposited into, and another account that I use for, mainly, online purchases or recurring subscriptions like netflix or anything where I am worried about card security. I transfer money into the account, then make the purchase, never leaving more than a hundred bucks or so floating in the account. That way, I limit my own pain in the event that someone gets hacked or my card gets leaked online - I'd much rather not be able to pay netflix than not be able to pay rent.

At one point, I also had a home depot card when my wife and I were fixing up our house in preparation to sell it.

I have a wallet that functions effectively as my phone case and wallet in one, and reducing the number of cards I have to carry around to - potentially - drivers' license, one payment card, and clipper card would be fantastic.

It's a good idea to carry a couple cards.

About a decade ago, I took a sudden flight to a small airport in Colorado due to an emergency at work. When I arrived, I had nothing but a Visa, and a few dollars Canadian.

I was frustrated to find that I couldn't get food or call my work, because Visa wasn't accepted anywhere. The highlight was trying to make a call on a payphone and talking to the operator. When I asked if I could use my credit card to make a call, she listed off MasterCard and a half-dozen credit cards I'd never heard of. "How about Visa?" "No, sorry."

I will forever remember the janitor for lending me his cell phone and getting me out of that mess. After that, I made sure I carried multiple cards.

This. I ride not-particularly-reliable motorcycles. My personal philosophy is to always have access via at least two different financial institutions and their computer networks to sufficient debit/credit funds to get myself and a possibly broken bike home from the most remote place I could possibly end up on a trip.

(I did once end up having a tremendously fun weekend in Melbourne thanks to a broken down bike and a weekend long outage of my then only bank's ATM network - but it would have been even more fun with more than the cash in my pocket and relying on friends for somewhere to sleep until a branch opened on Monday morning...)

On the London transport network you've been able to pay at the barriers with a contactless credit card in the same way as you would use an Oyster card for a couple of years now. It's weird that other transport networks haven't adopted it yet

Such a system has been in use in Singapore for more than 15 years.

Vienna does away with all of this fuss by simply doing random checks, issuing on the spot fines for fare evaders, and not having to manage the expense of turnstiles etc.

Neither the ez-link or NETS FlashPay cards are credit cards. The SG trial of contactless credit cards for public transport micropayments kicked off only last month. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/tap-masterca...

How do you pay for tickets in Vienna then?

I kind of like the barriers, if you are on the station platform, then you have definitely paid. For me, the stations that don't have barriers are more stressful, as you run the risk of forgetting to tap your card (or the tap not registering) and incurring a maximum fare.

In Nürnberg, you can either buy paper tickets from ubiquitous automats or in the local transit app (with a pre-configured credit card or current account). I love it.

Local bus drivers will sell tickets, but there are also ticket validation machines in the middle of most busses. Local trains and subways are trust basis, but I've seen more random ticket checks recently. Ticket checks are more frequent on long-distance trains, but still, no barriers. I have yet to travel on local or long-distance trains in Germany or Austria that aren't trust-based.

Berlin has a similar proof-of-payment system, where there are no physical barriers between the street and train platforms. Most people have multi use tickets; you can buy week, month, or year long tickets.

I definitely prefer the proof-of-payment setup more. London (which has turnstiles) can get crazy backups with people trying to tap into / out of the system, and the Berlin system lets you engineer more convenient and therefore customer-friendly stations -- no need for mezzanines, paid vs free elevators, and the like.

That's what caused me to get stopped by the police my first day in Berlin a few years ago. I wanted to go to a board game store, so I looked one up on Google in the hotel lobby, walked to a u-bahn station, paid a couple euros for a ticket, walked downstairs and got on a train.

And promptly got pulled off the train at the next stop for not paying.

They were very understanding when I explained I had only been in the country about two hours (and showed my passport stamp as proof). They explained that there are machines to punch holes in the tickets... I did think it was strange that there weren't any turnstiles, but I figured, maybe you run into them on the way out or something (and I had only been in a foreign country two hours, everything was strange).

FWIW the police does not perform ticket checks in Berlin. Traditionally it was done by employees of the public transport company and now increasingly by third party contractors.

It might have been some security guard thing, I don't remember. It was a few years ago.

Some stations in London can be so busy, that they'd need some way to prevent people from overcrowding the platform even if there were no barriers.

It's pretty common for smaller stations near major football stadia to have the barriers controlled manually after big games -- totally open for some minutes, then completely shut until the platform has cleared.

(London used to have a proof-of-payment system on the articulated buses, since you were allowed to board at any door, and it still exists on the trams.)

Maximum fare?? The fine for fare evasion should be well above the maximum fare.

In London, the barriers automatically charge the maximum fare if you forget to touch in or out of the system. It helps because you can jump the barrier to get into the system but you never know if ticket inspectors/security will be present at the station where you plan on alighting. The penalty for being caught jumping the barrier is significantly higher.

Caltrain (the heavily dysfunctional system serving a minor portion of the San Francisco Bay Area) is similar, but a little less convenient --

Tag in and forget to tag out, you pay the maximum fare.

Forget to tag in, hope you don't get checked. There is no option to tag out without having tagged in. (Although I've seen this happen to someone, and he was just given a warning.)

Get checked without having tagged in, pay $400, which is about 30 times the maximum fare.

Or, looking at it from a different perspective, the fine is maximum fare by definition. Then you can pay the posted fare or decide whether the expected fare based on fine x probability of capture

Fine on Nürnberg's system is 60 EUR - plus maximum fare.

That's how it works in Chicago.

If you use your main card at a major retail store it has just as much chance of being involved in a hacking incident as the online card.

My dream for something like this is having everything on one card would let you manage the complexity a lot better.

Having one single interface to pay all bills and see spending breakdowns aggregated across all your cards, recommending the optimal order to pay down cards (if you are going to carry a balance).

Then on top of this, automatic fallback in case one card is declined, new numbers for every online transaction (not tied to a single provider).

You could even layer on top a simple scripting language to choose the card to be used for a given transaction. E.g. Use my rewards card when buying gas, but if I've maxed out the points then use the lowest interest card. Or round robin the cards to spread out the balance.

Or imagine a group outing where everyone can all combine into a single virtual card, with the ability to distribute charges however you want on the back end.

There are a ton of cool possibilities available (albeit very challenging to get right). And in theory, many people have at least 2 cards for redundancy purposes. Add in no fee rewards cards (Target, etc) and it will add up even for non hardcore points collectors.

One of the Plastc alternatives, I can't seem to find it now, was a device like Plastc, but also a yearly subscription fee, because they promoted the benefits being that the card would automatically switch between your available cards to optimize rewards.

At a gas station you would use the card that had the best gas points. At the grocery store it would switch to the card with the best grocery points...

I was never interested in it, because I don't really want to manage many cards, but I can see the appeal in it.

This sounds like a genuinely useful technology that will sadly never make it past the Big Credit gods. Card providers seem to make their profits when you're not managing your card usage so intelligently.

Moneytree does this in Japan. You register all your accounts with it and you can see them all and manage them all in one interface.

Or you could have zero cards given that everyone trots around with a supercomputer in their pants these days..

> It's nice to have one card as a backup, and some hardcore churners / points collectors are going to want 5 or 6 cards and use different cards for different categories... but they're real niches, it's not something that a mainstream, mass market consumer is going to want to manage.

I don't think this is the case. I think the average person has several credit cards (and is probably in the red on all of them).

On the other end of the spectrum is the financial-savvy user that also has multiple credit cards: One that gives them a gas discount, one for their Costco membership, one for restaurant cash-back, one for general purpose cash-back, one that waives the foreign currency conversion fee, etc.

> one that waives the foreign currency conversion fee

I have a credit card for precisely this purpose (it's also general-purpose cash back). It's not as useful as you might expect -- most places in China that accept foreign credit cards do so only through an agreement with a chinese bank that imposes a ridiculously disadvantageous exchange rate. (But there's no "conversion fee" -- the bank generously bills you in USD. How nice of them.) They don't seem to be able to bill your card in yuan directly even though the card supports it.

On the other hand, my debit card from the same bank that also has no foreign currency conversion fee works perfectly to get cash from ATMs.

I use that card for online shopping, where cash isn't an alternative. It's a fair point that exchange rates vary.

>my debit card from the same bank that also has no foreign currency conversion fee

I'm assuming they're making money on the exchange rate, then?

Quite possible, but when I checked it was something like 0.5%, more than an order of magnitude better than the "convenience" of having a chinese bank bill your card in USD.

I asked them (my bank) about it, got a response I don't remember, and decided I could live with 0.5%

There are several cards available in Britain which use the VISA/MasterCard spot rate, and add no further fees.

The cards tend to have no other promotion, whereas comparable cards might include travel insurance, or some gift vouchers when you sign up.

> having many credit cards is a complete pain to manage, because for each card you need to [...] change the address when you move

Why? I did that once, and it was a huge pain. But the cards work just as well no matter what they think your address of record is. Now I just don't change it.

So you use your old address as your billing address? Aren't you worried about the new resident of your old address receiving official communications intended for you?

In USA, you can file change of address forms with USPS. Any and all financial firms will get that change within a few months, and over that period USPS will forward automatically.

No, because that is my parents.

If I was worried, I'd tell the payment cards to stop sending me mail.

What I don't understand is the need for multiple credit cards. I have a bank card (an EC-card) and I haven't used my credit-card since a month (other than automatic transactions).

Yes you are sensible. But most people are not, they live in debt and shuffle it between the various cards. There are also people that just like collecting these things so they have a wallet full. Five cards should cover the personal, marital and work requirements in debit/credit flavours.

Why would you ever use a EC card instead of a credit card? Credit card companies literally pay you to use their cards. Why turn down that money?

I carry two credit cards because one is American Express and pays me more but fewer places accept it, so I have a backup Visa that pays me a bit less but everywhere accepts it.

A lot of merchants, like small hotels and restaurants, in Germany and Austria flat out won't take credit cards, because of the expense. They often will take EC cards and have the chip-and-PIN readers for it.

Americans never believe this until they've made a frantic run to an ATM after hosting a big dinner out or when they want to check out of that charming Gasthaus in a ski town.

When I first got over here in 2004, Media Markt (large electronics chain) didn't take credit cards, but did take EC-cards.

("EC card" implies Germany.)

The EU imposes a maximum 0.3% fee to the merchant for accepting a credit card. This is to avoid any unfair competition between cash and cards, and between poorer people not eligible for cards that get cashback.

The UK used to have cards giving 2-3% cashback, sometimes more, but they've all been withdrawn.

I don't bother with a credit card, since it's one less automatic bill payment and one less statement to check.

You can still get 1.25% back in the EU. It's not a lot, but it's still just free cash.


I have a card that gets me miles instead of cash. I did the maths and worked out those were better value for what I wanted. Again, they're just free miles and I'm always flying with the airline anyway so I'm never making extra trips in order to spend them.

The genius of the system I use is that I have multiple credit cards (American Express, Visa) but actually they all just feed into the same account with the same bill to make managing them simple.

Wasn't that exactly what Coin was?


Pretty much. And 3-4 other, very similar startups- most have ended the same way in failing to get anything to market. Dynamics has been around for a while with a similar product, but B2B sales strategy, though they don't seem to be getting much traction. Cool idea on the surface, but clearly has some fatal flaws. Just funny to me how VCs are willing to fund essentially the same company that has failed multiple times before... though in this case, maybe their VCs actually did the diligence and that's what led them to back out (total speculation).

In Canada most payment terminals have the NFC hardware built in, it's just a question of whether it's actually enabled or not. It's very rare these days for me to see it disabled. I've used Apple Pay a lot and have never used it at a merchant that advertises it - if the machine allows tap, Apple Pay just works. I assume that Google Pay is similar.

Fruit smoothies and sneakers? In Palo Alto, everyone told me the best coffee was at Zombie Runner, which is a running store...? So I guess that could happen.

I was just passing through for a couple of days so never had the chance to try it for myself, ymmv


Fruit smoothies and sneakers? Here you go:


All I want is an automatic popup on my phone when I approach the register to scan my card details with samsung pay rather than have to slide up apps, use my thumbprint to unlock and wave the damn thing around madly

Currently I use it because of the novelty but it's actually more difficult for me than a physical card

I mean, it could just be a clever allusion to a mall. And spotting a trend and jumping on to monitize is pretty straightforward. He just never found a way to ease the friction, and google pay remains a reletive novelty here. Compare that to china, and you may realize there is, still, an great untapped market for such a service. The failure was not the stupid SV thinking, but inability to execute successfully. Given that Apple, Google, and others have tried similar, it is no huge failure imho.

> fruit smoothies

Probably the one with $400 juice press from this morning. What a glorious time.

I don't think I'm wrong in the observation that Silicon Valley hasn't really produced anything notable for about a decade now, unless you count grifting lawbreakers like Uber and Airbnb.

My favorite part about this is that they created a webpage that essentially called out Coin for selling out, and that they'd give you a discount if you traded your Coin in. At least Coin was able to deliver some semblance of a product, whereas Plastc was only able to deliver a blog post.


For the sake of posterity:

"Flip Your Coin For A $50 Discount

Coin has been acquired and is now defunct. Or in other words, they sold you out. Don’t worry, Plastc’s got your back. We’re giving you the opportunity to trade-up your extinct card for $50 off a Plastc Card pre-order. Looks like you’re back in business! Flip your Coin Enter your email below and click “Trade-Up” Instantly receive a $50 discount when you place your Plastc Card pre-order Instructions will be sent to you by e-mail"

PS. If anyone got burnt twice by this, you should send me $200, and your Plastc pre-order receipt, and I swear I'll build you a smart card that will disrupt your wallet.

Hi, I'm interested in signing up for your card but I have one question first: When you inevitably abandon the project and take my money, can I expect a detailed blog post about your "incredible journey" or maybe your "amazing bet" to disrupt the market? That's what I really sign up to these things for.

Yes. We promise to be the most accountable and transparent smart credit card company in the world. We will be so transparent that we will spring the news that we ran out of money and you are out of your preorder on you through our Chapter 11 filing.

Briliant. If you do announce the news, will your posts be hard to decipher as well? I think that's what people are looking for, that marketing spin. I don't want to immediately understand that you're bankrupt and I'll never receive my order; solving it should be like a fun logic puzzle.

FWIW, the thread on Plastc from 3 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8422928

Edit: apparently there is a r/plastc and it declared plastc a scam 7 months ago: https://www.reddit.com/r/Plastc/comments/52or45/due_to_recen...

To me it's fascinating how much Plastc seems to have flown under the radar. The initial announcement, and then almost no coverage until today: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/plastc/press

I wonder if they even got the millions in preorders it claimed? How would anyone know if they lied? Did they ever get VC funding, which would presumably require me to tell the truth to investors?

I like that the first comment points out that they would be useless once the chip and pin switch takes place "in a year or so".

Chip & Pin is an interesting beast.

Canada went straight to Chip & Pin, skipping over Chip & Sign. Since credit cards generally didn't have PINs at the time, there was a little work on the part of the issuing banks to assign PINs. One of my cards came with a letter that said "Use the same PIN as you use with your regular bank card", another came with one that said "Here's your new PIN, you can change it at any of our ATMs" (I only have a credit card with this bank). This all happened over 10 years ago.

When I visited the US recently, I used one of my cards and the cashier said "Oh, you're from Canada, you have to enter a PIN" after inserting it into the payment terminal. A payment at Walmart was even easier as the terminal was customer-facing, it worked just like it does in Canada - insert card, verify amount, enter PIN, done.

Clearly the infrastructure is in place, since the transactions all worked, but there seems to be some strange reluctance for the card issuers to actually use it.

Chip + Sign reduces 80% of classic fraud. Chip + PIN reduces ~98% (last I heard in 2016).

Someone I spoke to at capital one said that Visa/MS decided to do Chip+Sign in the US due to the increased support costs of forgotten PINs.

I'd be interested to know how much of a problem this is in Canada.

Maybe it's different here because debit cards are so common that we've been trained to remember our PINs. My bank even uses Chip & PIN as the first step for an in-person transaction at a teller.

> My bank even uses Chip & PIN as the first step for an in-person transaction at a teller.

Some banks do that here in the US as well, as do retailers. Those are both for debit card transactions, though.

Also people in US are in the habit of handing their card over to family members to use, which works with signature because the POS operator never checks the signature, but won't work with PIN because PINs are supposed to be super-secret. Hence requiring PIN would reduce the spend on credit cards (no lending and spending), hence fewer smaller boats for credit card executives.

Huh? Someone trusts their family member to spend responsibly with their credit card, and is happy for that person to forge their signature, but wouldn't tell them the PIN code because it's "supposed to be super-secret"? That doesn't make sense to me.

Should have explained the logic better: it is the banks that have taken the decision not to use PINs (partly) because they do not want to get into a position where they both tell people never to reveal their PINs, but also tacitly condone card sharing that implies PIN-sharing.

I agree with you. I think it's more likely that people would forget somebody else's PIN more easily.

But fraud is up. Chip & Pin has just motivated them to use online methods. Or load other pay to load cards without a chip.

The card issuers are afraid people will forget their PIN, since most people have only one ATM card but multiple credit cards. And if one CC provider requires a PIN, but another one doesn't, then the customer will put the card back in their wallet and pull out another card. Or they will not switch between cards, and consolidate to only one card (whereas a lot of people pull out a credit card at random, apparently).

Personally, I cannot remember PINs. At all. That means I can never use debit cards. If chip and pin were a thing, I guess I would have to get a tattoo or something.

It's a four digit number! How hard can they be? Set it to something memorable. Even something "insecure" like a memorable date is more secure than a signature.

If two letters of my credit card signature are distinguishable, that means I was focusing hard on it. It's basically just a squiggle.

How often do they even check it though? And of those times, how often would they refuse it? I know that pre-chip and PIN in the UK I had a card for years where the signature strip had been rubbed off, and I was never challenged on it. When I've visited the US they've also very rarely checked.

I've been using credit cards without ever signing them for about a decade, and have been questioned zero times about it.

That worked up until I was required to change it the first time, or until I was assigned a PIN.

It's a per-card setting. Issuers here in the UK default to PIN for both credit and debit, but both are available with signature for those who need it.

I definitely had chip and sign for a few months in Canada before they added a pin to my card. Circa 2011.

It's borderline criminal how these guys were advertising their gear on instagram up until very recently, as though they were literally just about to ship. And they're not the only ones who have been advertising vapourware on instagram as though they are a day away from shipping

In their defense, until today they thought they were going to get funded and actually be able to deliver.

In their non-defense, they also promised accountability and transparency. If you are one signature away from bankruptcy, you may want to be transparent about that, before taking un-refundable preorders.

Or you could do the responsible thing and keep preorder money in escrow.

Madoff was also only a few signatures from having his Ponzi scheme staying afloat.

Don't judge them until you walk a mile in their shoes. When you worked on something for years, you still maintain hope, and you're wrestling with doubt every day being "transparent" isn't so easy. You literally can't say "hey, we might go out of business" and then walk into a VC office and make a pitch. Having to wrestle with this was the hardest part of my job at RethinkDB, and any time I hear of someone who had to deal with it I want to wrap them in a blanket and buy them hot cocoa (laced with bourbon).

>being "transparent" isn't so easy

It isn't about being easy. It's about doing what is right. I don't care that it's not easy. Why would I, if I was a backer and you took my money?

Do you really need to burn people and go bankrupt before you can call out other people for doing so?

I get what you are saying, but not taking pre-orders while they are teetering on the edge of going bust seems like the "decent" thing to do.

This reminds me of Paul Graham's talk/essay about how (as a startup) not to die. Relevant portion:

When we were visiting Yahoo to talk about being acquired, we had to interrupt everything and borrow one of their conference rooms to talk down an investor who was about to back out of a new funding round we needed to stay alive. So even in the middle of getting rich we were fighting off the grim reaper.


There are alternatives to what they've done. They could have opted to not use the pre-order money to fund their operations (Until more funding could be secured). They could have protected it, as soon as they realized that they are in deep financial trouble. Compare this story to that of Lily - where when the party ended, it seems like the company has plans to give customers partial refunds. [1]

Instead, from all external appearances, they did everything they could to do right by themselves - not their customers.

[1] https://www.recode.net/2017/2/28/14766780/failed-drone-lily-...

>They could have opted to not use the pre-order money to fund their operations

Exactly. Sequestering pre-order money - at least some fraction of it - should have been one of the first orders of business for any company who cares about integrity.

People talk about this as customers, but: surely the point of pre-order money in many cases is precisely to fund operations - to provide the working capital needed to do manufacturing?

If I have a hardware product that costs $80 to make (x10,000) and I'm selling it on Kickstarter for $100, are you saying that after taking in a million on kickstarter I should just sequester it and then find a spare $800k to do the actual manufacturing?

The key difference here is that the manufacturing never actually happened. They seem to have used preorder money to fund other steps in the process but never actually made the product beyond some initial devices.

Kickstarter to fund manufacturing should happen at the appropriate time in the process, if you're "doing it the right way."

Given the several month long lead times on hardware fabrication they must have known a long time ago that they couldn't deliver any time soon.

Understand launching hardware is hard but where did the $9 million pre-order money go?

Also they just took Series A? $4.3M


They've just deleted all social profiles https://twitter.com/plastcinc https://www.facebook.com/PlastcInc/

My newsfeed on Facebook is full of ads of hardware startups with amazing concepts of products. When I get into the "know more" is always a "pre-order". From IOT-retrofit-motorized-shades to triple-your-macbook-screen-via-usb. I've been burned so many times that when I see "startup", "hardware", "pre-order" and "as a service" in the same pitch, I make a mental note of "call me back once you have a real product and it does not depend on your infrastructure".

Does anyone have any information whether they'd refund people who have pre-ordered?

> A chapter 7 bankruptcy case does not involve the filing of a plan of repayment as in chapter 13. Instead, the bankruptcy trustee gathers and sells the debtor's nonexempt assets and uses the proceeds of such assets to pay holders of claims (creditors) in accordance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. Part of the debtor's property may be subject to liens and mortgages that pledge the property to other creditors. In addition, the Bankruptcy Code will allow the debtor to keep certain "exempt" property; but a trustee will liquidate the debtor's remaining assets. Accordingly, potential debtors should realize that the filing of a petition under chapter 7 may result in the loss of property.


I wish they have clarified this in the email and the website in plain English. I'm no lawyer, but this sounds like they won't refund.

Kickstarter style

From the website:

> What This Means For Backers: > It’s been a long road with a lot of obstacles. The support of our amazing backers has been incredible, which makes this announcement even harder. We were so incredibly ready for production in order to hit our deadlines but without capital it is impossible for us to move forward and we will not be able to fulfill any pre-orders.

soooo... no.

They really went out of their way there, to add insult to injury.

As I backer I got the exact same text in an email as on the website, but my reading says no refunds.

I doubt they are going to issue refunds since they are going to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Sounds like if they had the money for a refund they wouldn't be shutting down.

If you paid via a credit card you could try doing a chargeback with the bank that issued your card. If plastic is unable to refund you, their payment processor will likely be on the hook instead.

That's what I did the moment the "lol sorry preorderers are screwed" email came in. As far as I'm concerned, this was fraud, and I'm hoping I get my preorder (not "investment", not "bootstrap", not "kickstarter") money back.

By the message they leave in the email and on the site, it does not look that way. I doubt it. I am a backer as well.

Three years? And they never shipped a thing?

How is this possible? I don't get it.

By taking all of the preoder money they were getting and rolling it into advertising (to get more preorders)

CEO and founder Ryan Marquis deleted his Twitter? https://twitter.com/ry_marquis

I still want a chrome extension that warns me every time a previously bad acting founders name is listed on a page I'm on, or I'm on the site of one of their new 'projects'

I get that he wants to keep a low profile and avoid the vitriol and trolls, but what a cowardly thing to do.

If you can't face the music when times are bad, you don't deserve the rewards during the good times. People trusted Ryan to the tune of $9MM in pre-orders and he rewards them by spending all the money and disappearing?

No entrepreneur should ever desert their customers and backers like this.

https://twitter.com/plastcinc was deleted, too. :-(

To be honest, I have always suspected that there is some kind of fraud going on with the company. Their Facebook page is an endless call for pre-orders. And they keep pushing the delivery date out. And further more, how the hell can you spend every bit of 9 million dollars and still not have a product? I don't know...

At least Coin delivered my product before getting scooped up. =/

I just noticed they shutdown the coin servers at the end of February, and the app is useless without them.

Now I can't add anymore loyalty cards to my Coin. Damn internet of shit.

RMS said "Software As a Service" is not free

I'd suggest a very interesting subreddit


As much as I'd love to see something like this succeed, I can't see it happening.

CC companies have too many incentives to force you to carry their physical card, so they will keep on producing things like the chip-and-PIN tech. That means we will always have one force pushing us to carry their physical card, and until I NEVER need to pull out that real card I have to carry it with me, so I might as well just use it.

Unfortunately this is bad for everyone in this market; it (all other players) is a reason we decided not to do preorders but only to take actual orders we can immediately ship out once the product is done and tested. Hardware is hard, especially tiny, bendable hardware meant for daily use under many different, hard to predict circumstances.

Disclaimer: I work on a similar product

After canceling my pre-order in November I had hoped I was wrong about their future. However it seems that chasing more and more features (massive scope creep since the initial product) while being behind the curve on basics such as chip and pin was just too much for them to overcome.

Shouldn't the amount they raised from backers have included all that was needed to fulfill preorders?

Taking someone's money and relying/hoping on future investments to be able to deliver what people already bought is kind of risky...

Late to the party, but does anyone know how the card was supposed to work? It always seemed like a tricky technical problem, but may not?

Appears to be down, mirror here: http://archive.is/1vHvk

Their logo is 6 letters in similar or the exact text as stripe with similar color schemes

Remind me of Coin card. Just a matter of time.

I wonder if this has anything to do with Final (https://getfinal.com) shipping?

I doubt it since Final isn't really in the same sphere as Plastc. Final is a typical credit (as in line of credit) card with the added bonus of virtual credit card numbers (similar to Privacy.com credit card numbers). If someone was interested in Plastc, there's nothing about Final that'd be enticing to them.

Final has been shipping for 6+ months. Theyre also fairly different markets.

Yeah, I've been using Final since October of last year.

dang, sctb, et al: Please update the title to reflect the correct name of this (former) company, which is "Plastc" (no 'i'). Thanks!

It should have been obvious they were doomed to fail when they couldn't afford to buy a penultimate vowel for their name.

They sold it for a few million in VC funding.

Wow, good catch. Even as a backer I didn't realize this. Sadly I can't edit the title, so hopefully dang will take care of it.

Thanks! Updated.

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