Plastc: I think it’s a scam.

I was out for a run this past week thinking about how much I dislike my iPhone clinking around in my pocket when I run. That made me think about Plastc, that I wrote about a year or so ago.

Plastc promised to be a one-stop card that stores all the information about your credit cards on one pseudo-card. As you select a different card, the magnetic stripe, NFC (near-field chip, the chip that allows you to “tap” rather than swipe your card), and EMV chip change to reflect that card. It’s a genius idea.

About three years ago, I gladly purchased a Plastc card, which was a kickstarter project and slated to ship a few months later. It never shipped, and the project has been plagued by one delay after another. I’ve eagerly been waiting for the card for more than three years, and check the website from time to time to see if there’s any update. About this time last year, the company announced a stunning delay of more than a year, and to compensate, offered a second card free of charge. They also changed from a card model to a subscription-based model.

So while I was running, it occurred to me: this is a SCAM. Here’s why:

  1. First, none of these technologies exists. There’s no way to “re-magnitize” a magnetic stripe on the fly; there’s no way to re-key an EMV chip on the fly. The NFC is able to change on the fly, which is what Apple Pay uses in your iPhone and Apple watch.
  2. Second, it cost Apple a fair amount to figure out this technology and then how to power it without draining your iPhone battery. Plastc is credit-card thin. There is no way that it can house a battery (again, because none has been developed yet) that thin that can power the card and the processor needed and still fit into a credit card thickness. Just not possible.
  3. Apple spent years and millions setting up security agreements and arrangements with banks and financial services companies to get Apple Pay up and running. Plastc is nowhere near as capitalized (or, apparently, motivated) and has nowhere near the clout to make that happen. CurrentC—a consortium of banks and retailers—wasn’t able to make it happen, nor was Google. So what makes anyone think that Plastc, as an undercapitalized Kickstarter project will be able to do it?

The fine print on the Plastc site says—essentially—this:

“Plastc card will be available to use across all participating locations and with all participating payments types following an over-the-air firmware update to enable Chip’n’Pin and contactless payments.”

Which essentially translates into: we’re going to send you a card that doesn’t do anything until we figure out how to make it work and until we can get everyone on board, which may never happen.

Moreover the FAQ on the site assert:

“You can cancel your order for a full refund anytime before your order ships. We do not offer a “trial” period once the card has been delivered.”

Which essentially translates into: we’re going to send you a “card” that doesn’t do anything until we figure out how to make it work, and you can’t return it once we send it to you, even if it doesn’t do what we promised (or implied) it would do.

Which further translates into: Dear Plastc, get ready for a whopping class-action suit.

Which further translates into: Dear Customer, Plastc is a broke kickstarter start-up, and you can’t get blood from a stone.

Back to the fine print that clearly states:

Product design and features may vary at the time of shipping.

Meaning:  Even though we promised you a credit card sized device no thicker than a credit card—and we showed you that on kickstarter and on our website—you could very well wind up with a device the size of a brick by the time we send it to you, if we send it to you at all.

All of which means: you’ve probably been scammed.

The latest update is that Plastc will ship in August–September 2016. My prediction: another delay will be announced and no cards will ship. However, I do predict the promised iPhone app will be released, and will have limited ability beyond what ApplePay already does. In the meanwhile, the developers behind Plastc will be laughing all the way to the bank.

We will see, but my guess is that all of us patient Plastc’ers are being taken for a ride.