Security check: lots of scratch cards

Security check: lots of scratch cards

München, 08. May 2013 —  

Author: Ulrike Peter, free-lance journalist

Security check: lots of scratch cards

These days, using scratch cards for sales promotion is popular amongst advertisers and event organisers.  Nonetheless, this method has pitfalls if it isn’t covered and if the card’s security features have not been thoroughly checked during the early planning and production stages. Ralph Clemens Martin, CEO of the risk management specialist EMIRAT AG, specifies what distinguishes a secure scratch card and what has to be taken into account in games and contests where they are used.

A department store advertises that customers can win a Porsche if they buy a certain product. To enter, they have to scratch open the right panels on a scratch card to reveal a given combination. The aim and purpose of this promotion is to arouse the interest of as many customers as possible on a single day, and to attract wide attention throughout the town by offering a spectacular prize. However, within 30 minutes an entrant has the brilliant idea of shining a torch through the card, sees the right panels and gets the prize. The campaign is over before it has even properly started: the Porsche leaves the parking lot with the bright customer at the wheel, and apart from producing costs and annoyance the promotion has achieved virtually nothing.

The sales promotion could scarcely have been a bigger failure, because the winning combination was “made out” in the truest sense of the word. But let’s start at the beginning. A scratch card or ticket is a printed piece of paper; in a mechanical process the print is concealed with an opaque layer, which is made of a rubbery substance that can be scratched off. If an organiser decides to stage a campaign with scratch cards all of which are potential winners – i.e. no blanks – it is bound to benefit from the above-average incentive and advertising effect. Nonetheless, if it has no coverage and uses insecure cards into the bargain, the organiser will be letting itself in for incalculable risks: if the worst comes to the worst, it will find it has staked everything on a single card.

Double check

For its clients, EMIRAT insures the jackpots and prizes they offer. To get coverage, the client pays a premium that amounts to a small percentage of the insured sum; then the client does not have to pay up if there is a winner – EMIRAT pays out the prize money instead. This means that by offering attractive prizes the client can hold a contest that generates great awareness, without taking any risks.

The details of a campaign of this sort could look something like this: Each card is potentially a winning card and has 25 scratch-off panels, seven of which contain winning logos – so seven panels may be scratched open. If more than seven panels are scratched open, the card is disqualified. For a win, all seven winning logos have to be found. To check afterwards, the whole card can be scratched open to find out under which panels the winning logos were hidden. This can prove that each single card is potentially a winning card.

By way of a variation, different prizes can be distributed with the scratch cards. For instance, 100,000 cards can be issued with a range of prize levels (e.g. 10 x EUR 1 million, 100 x EUR 10,000 and 1,000 x EUR 100, etc.).

These scratch cards are manufactured using a special secure printing method, so that they cannot be manipulated. The actual printing is very complicated and has to satisfy all the criteria in a security check. In the whole world, there are only a few printers who can produce cards using this method.

It’s all in the print

But how can it be ascertained whether a card is a secure scratch card, and how can constant high quality be guaranteed? “Basically, whenever the high standards required for secure scratch cards have to be met, that means that every single card has to be secure. The best thing to do is to inspect samples from each print run. When we search for a printer or ask for a quote, a whole series of tests has to be passed,” explains Ralph Clemens Martin from EMIRAT. His business specialises in providing coverage for conventional games and contests offering prizes, as well as for discount drives, money-back guarantees, weather-forecast promotions and much more besides. EMIRAT regularly plans and insures campaigns using scratch cards, and security and integrity are absolutely top priority. “There are only two printers in the world which are able to meet our security requirements and standards of quality,” says Ralph C. Martin. “Printing is expensive, but it’s worth it. The kind of scratch cards used in Lotto aren’t secure enough for us.”

So in a first step, it has to be verified whether the printer uses special paper for “top level” secure cards, and whether it is possibly even patented. Moreover, printing has to be done in a locked and monitored room with the strictest of access controls, along with corresponding documentation. There must be a possibility of posting the data directly, i.e. outsiders must not be able to interfere with the process or influence the distribution of the symbols.

The printer also has to have insurance, so that it will be able to cover the cost of paying out the prize being offered and/or doing a new print run, or of paying compensation to the client, if any manipulation has taken place due to an error, or because the security measures or quality standards are inadequate, or as a result of failing to supervise the staff.

Ralph Clemens Martin has also developed a special security check which recommends checking the following minimum criteria:

1. General

1.1. Can the winning symbols be recognised in any way, without visible traces or signs of tampering being left on the card or on the scratch panels?

2. Quality test

2.1. How difficult is it to damage the card or scratch off the covering layer?

2.2. Is the print quality immaculate?

2.3. Are the code(s) in order, or can they be manipulated?

2.4. How sensitive is the print to water, chemicals, etc.?

3. Safety test

3.1. Does the card contain metal parts or metal filings?

3.2. Does the card release metal / nickel?

3.3. Inspect with a laser and electron microscope.

4. Light and magnet test

4.1. Daylight/sunlight: Does light shine through the card? Can symbols be recognised? Is there a recognisable reflecting pattern?

4.2. Artificial light/torch/LED, etc.: See criteria for daylight; repeat when the card is stretched/bent.

4.3. Strip light, fluorescent tube: See criteria for daylight.

4.4. UV light: Can UV rays of different wavelengths penetrate the card, and is any pattern recognisable?

4.5. Infrared light/rays: Warm the card and measure the heat given off/thermal image and the patterns.

4.6. X-rays: Test with X-rays of varying strengths and waves from various devices. Can patterns or codes be recognised?

4.7. Laser: Lasers with different wavelengths +- 670nm are used to test the reflection of the various print levels.

4.8. Magnetism: Can the card, an ink or a layer be magnetised at all? Can a pattern/image be made or recognised this way?


Provided all these criteria have been checked and the extensive tests have been completed with good results, there is no further obstacle to a secure scratch card campaign. Anyone who does not want to take any risks – not only with the cards as such but also as regards the entire campaign, including the prizes being offered – can do so with the help of a risk management specialist, who bears the overall financial risk and pays out the prizes if there is a winner. Thanks to the possibility of offering a spectacular prize without gambling with its own the budget, the customer stands to gain not only from the calculability and transparency this provides, but also from greater awareness.