A Square credit card reader. Square and other companies are stepping up efforts to market their chip-card readers. (Jin Lee/Bloomberg)

American consumers are beginning to receive in the mail new credit cards that add a security chip to the traditional magnetic strip that processes their payments. The hope is the new cards cut down on credit card fraud but many small businesses do not appear ready for the change.

A deadline for phasing in secure, chip-enabled payment cards across the country kicks in on Oct. 1. That’s when banks are supposed to finish distributing the new plastic to customers. Businesses will need to install new card readers to process the information on the chips. Those that do not have the new technology in place by then will be on the hook for any security lapses or fraudulent transactions, instead of payment-processing firms.

But four months before the deadline, more than 28 percent of small business owners who process payment cards are not even aware of the new technology or how it affects their business, according to a new survey by Manta, an online small business community site.

The survey polled 1,609 business owners and asked them whether or not they planned to adopt the new payment card technology by Oct. 1, with a margin of error of 2.44 percentage points.

Of those who did accept cards, the majority did not even know about the new payment technology, or why they needed to install it, the survey found. More than 16 percent of owners also said they had not seen customers using the new chip cards.

The lack of awareness is “concerning,” said John Swanciger, Manta’s chief executive. Payment companies need to do more to educate small businesses about their liability, he said.

The findings echo a similar survey conducted by software firm Intuit last month, which polled 500 small businesses that employ up to a hundred employees. Forty-two percent of owners surveyed were not aware of the deadline.

Companies such as Intuit, Square and Capital One, which sell readers equipped to accept the new cards, have stepped up efforts to educate small business owners about the mandated shift in hopes of locking up new customers as they jostle for market share.

Square said it would give away 250,000 readers for free for a limited time. Intuit has stepped up its promotions, in part by funding its survey on awareness about the coming change. PayPal said it would bring its U.K.-based mobile reader, where chip-embedded cards are already in use, to the United States this fall. Retailers like Amazon are also getting into the mobile payments game.

A casual query of local businesses in downtown D.C. showed that few had heard of the deadline and few had even noticed whether customers used chip-based cards.

[Amazon goes bricks-and-mortar with its own mobile card reader]

Rachael Galoob Ortega, a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur who runs Saffron Dance, a belly-dancing class with multiple locations in the Washington area, said she hadn’t heard of the October deadline until a reporter informed her.

Nearly all of her customers pay by card, said Ortega, who is professionally known as Saphira. She quickly went on the Internet to begin reading up on the change.

“I’ve already signed up for the free Square reader,” she said.

For some small business owners, the cost of the new technology could be a potential burden, though prices have fallen sharply as competition has ramped up. Ortega said businesses that rely on more sophisticated point-of-sale systems, with multiple locations, could be harder hit. She estimates that switching over to a new reader would only cost her a few hundred dollars.

“The people who are going to struggle more are retailers who have invested a lot of money in a bulky piece of hardware,” she said.

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