A group of banks, high street stores and local shops today rolled out safer credit and debit cards, dubbed Chip and PIN, to fight the growing tide of credit card fraud.

Fraud costs the industry around £400m a year with thieves swiping credit cards through electronic machines to record details stored on the metal strip — located on the back of the card.

The Chip and PIN card, first announced back in May, replaces this strip with an allegedly crack-proof chip. The card's owner will have to enter a four-digit PIN number into a handheld device, provided by the retail outlet, to complete the transaction, replacing current signature authorisation.

"The rollout is a huge task with more than 850,000 shop terminals, 122 million cards and 40,000 cash machines being upgraded and 2.7 million retails staff being trained, so it won't happen overnight. There are household name retailers in every sector who are committed to making this happen by the end of 2004," said Amanda Miller of the British Retail Consortium.

The card is expected to be rolled out across the whole of the UK by 2005, with one in five credit card owners expected to be using the new Chip and PIN technology by Christmas this year.

A similar domestic PIN-card in France has reduced credit card fraud by 80 percent since its introduction 10 years ago.