How Does Google Wallet Work and Is It Safe?

How Does Google Wallet Work and Is It Safe?

hand holding cut out of shopping card over mobile phone to show how does the google wallet work

Mobile payments—rather than a credit card, or check—are becoming more and more popular and more and more common. In fact, globally, mobile payments are expected to be almost $50 billion by 2021.

Being able to use your smartphone or smartwatch to make payments makes a lot of sense. We carry them almost everywhere and adding more credit cards to your mobile payment provider of choice doesn’t take up any more space in your pocket.

Mobile payment options include Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, Visa Checkout and PayPal among others. And regardless of which one you choose, there are a lot of questions. How secure is your information? Do the places I shop accept digital payments? How complicated is it to pay for something?

To answer some of your questions, the team drills down here into Google Wallet, what it is and how it works.

Google Wallet vs Google Pay

Google’s digital wallet system is actually made up of a few different parts. Google Wallet was Google’s original peer-to-peer payment system for sending and receiving money. While the service still exists, the name changed to Google Pay when the previous Android Pay and Google Wallet services merged in January of 2018.1

Google Pay is a digital wallet and payment system. It lets you:

  • Send and receive money
  • Store your credit card and debit card information
  • Use the information stored in your phone to pay for items in apps, online and in-person

The in-person option requires the merchant to support near field communication (NFC) or “contactless” payments. This is the same system used by EMV chip technology in credit cards, which is still somewhat new in the U.S., but “old hat” in other countries.

Electronic wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay, which is Google’s biggest competitor, have helped push banks and merchants to move to support chip technology faster and acceptance is now widespread.

How Does Google Wallet Work?

Google Wallet, now Google Pay, is an app that you download to and install on your smartphone or smartwatch that uses the Android operating system. You can find the app in the Android Market on your android phone. You can’t use it on an iPhone.

You can use the app to send and receive money from others

Once you’ve downloaded the app, adding a credit card or debit card—or multiple cards—to Google Pay is pretty simple. In the app, you tap the “add credit or debit card” link and use the phone’s camera to take a picture of your credit card. The app scans the picture for your credit card number, expiration date and other details it needs.

Once you enter your card details, you need to verify it. You can do this a few different ways and you can pick your method of choice:

  • By having your verification code sent by email or text and entering the code in the app
  • By calling your bank or credit card issuer to get your verification code
  • By signing in to your credit card’s app or bank’s app to verify your payment method
  • By permitting a small temporary charge to be made to your account and verifying the payment in the Google Pay app

After verifying your card, it gets loaded into Google Pay.

  • You can now use the Google Pay option at checkout when making a purchase online.
    • You’ll see a Buy with G Pay or similar option.
    • You can even add your card at checkout and have it saved for later use with Google Pay.
  • If your phone is Play Protect Certified and has NFC and it’s turned on, you can now use your phone to make payments at physical stores that accept Google Wallet or Pay.
    • All you have to do is unlock your phone, hold it over the terminal and wait for a checkmark to appear.

You can also add bank account information. Your bank account can be used only to send and receive money from others—friends and family—not for making purchases in apps, online or at physical store locations.

Is Google Wallet Secure?

The most common concern people have about digital wallets is security. Putting all your credit card and debit card information into your smartphone and having it stored on a server somewhere seems like risky business.

Google takes measure to protect your information in several ways. First, Google stores your information on its secure servers using strong encryption. Cloud storage and data security are cornerstones of all of Google’s businesses, and if anyone should be able to keep your data safe, it’s Google.

You also have to set up security on your smartphone to use Google Pay. You have to have your phone set to lock automatically or the Google Wallet won’t work. If the lock is turned off, your account numbers are removed from Google Pay. Ensuring your phone is locked helps protect someone from gaining access to your phone and stealing your numbers.

Maybe most important is that when you buy something with Google Pay, your credit card details aren’t sent to the merchant. The system creates a virtual account number for every transaction and that’s what gets sent through the merchant’s payment system.

This is the same basic technology used for chip credit cards. It’s more secure than using a normal credit card with a magstripe. Like with chip credit card technology, the temporary number won’t work again if an unscrupulous merchant skims it or a hacker breaks into the merchant’s server and steals it. If you buy something with a magstripe credit card, the actual card number is used for every transaction.

Where Is Google Wallet Accepted?

For in-store purchases, Google Pay can be used with almost any contactless payment terminal. If the merchant’s terminal supports “chip” credit card payments, it most likely supports Google Pay payments as well.

You can also use Google Pay to pay for things online. Online Google Pay payments give you all of the same security and convenience benefits that Google Pay offers in-person.

The biggest roadblock to being able to use Google Pay isn’t whether the merchant supports it. It’s whether your credit card company supports it.

To add your card to Google Pay, the credit card company and the particular card you have with them have to support the Google Wallet system. The virtual account number feature is the biggest factor. The credit card company has to support these temporary numbers with their system, so adding a card to Google Pay that doesn’t work that way isn’t possible.

If your current credit card doesn’t support Google Pay, you’ve got lots of options for credit cards that do. If that’s the case, you can find a new credit card at Many of the cards offered here support Google Pay.

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What About Other Mobile Payment Systems?

There’s not a lot of competition in the digital wallet space. Quite a few companies have tried to get traction, but it’s come down to two primary competitors—Google Pay and Apple Pay.

There’s not much difference between the two. Most of the features, including security protection, are virtually identical. The decision of which one to use comes down to what kind of smartphone you own.

If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll probably use Apple Pay. There is a Google Pay app for the iPhone and iPad but it’s U.S.-only and it isn’t as well-integrated with the operating system.

If you use an Android phone, you’ll use Google Pay. There’s no option to use Apple Pay with non-Apple Android phones.

Paypal is the other common service but it’s strictly a peer-to-peer payment system and online payment system. It can’t be used to make purchases at actual physical stores.  You can though, add a Paypal account to Google Wallet and get the best of both worlds.

We’re Living in the Future

It hasn’t been that long since the early days of Google Wallet, but it has come a long way since then. Both in the features, it offers and in the number of places you can use it for purchases.

With the level of security and convenience it offers and being associated with the Google brand, that growth isn’t going to stop any time soon. It won’t be long until the idea of carrying a bunch of cards in your wallet or purse will seem as strange as playing music from CDs or movies from DVDs.

Happy shopping.


At publishing time, the cards mentioned are offered through product pages, and is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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