Japan running out of credit card numbers after online shopping surge

Japanese shoppers turn to e-commerce during pandemic, sparking fears of a shortage of credit card digits

Japan is facing a shortage of 16-digit credit card numbers after the pandemic sparked an online shopping boom.

Card providers are reportedly mulling an increase in the number of digits after shoppers turned to e-commerce as Covid-19 kept them at home.

The pandemic has helped with Tokyo’s push to boost cashless transactions with notes and coins still used for the vast majority of small purchases. Japan has lagged behind in the cashless shift but Shinzo Abe’s government plans to double usage to 40pc by 2025.

However, the industry fears the flurry of card issuance since the pandemic struck will cause a shortage of digit combinations, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported. 

The first six digits on a card indicate the country, brand and other details, while the last 10 are determined by the issuer. The rush of new cards means there is a shortage of combinations from the seventh digit onwards.

Most Japanese banks provide cards with 16 digits to help them partner with international transaction giants Visa and MasterCard.

Tokyo was already attempting to encourage shoppers to go cashless by offering a rebate on electronic transactions after increasing the sales tax from 8pc to 10pc last October.

“Increasing the number of digits is the only real way to deal with the problem,” a credit card industry source told the newspaper.  “There will likely be a shift toward increasing the number of digits in the first half of this decade.”

Hygiene concerns related to Covid-19 are also accelerating the cashless switch in Britain amid worries dwindling usage of notes and coins will hit the most vulnerable.

Officials have played down the risk of spreading the virus through cash but many shops are only accepting electronic transactions. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged to introduce new laws to protect cash at the Budget in March, ensuring that ATMs are widely available.