Ashley here with AllClear ID.  I have to admit this new threat caught me off-guard. After learning of it, I immediately reached into my wallet to see if my debit/credit cards were at risk of electronic pickpocketing.  Technology called RFID allows someone takes a scan of your debit/credit card while it’s in your pocket and without you ever knowing! Thieves can get your card #, expiration date, and security code without even seeing the card.

The industry refers to Radio-frequency identification (RFID) enabled payments as “contactless payments” – seen in everything from toll tags to subway cards to casino chips, and most recently credit cards. The benefits of RIFD chips are convenience and speed. They are designed to be read at a distance of 1-4 inches from the reader to minimize accidental readings. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is pursuing an investigation into the claims about electronic pickpocketing and recently information about what they have discovered so far:

Ability to scan the RFID enabled cards:

  • Scanners that can “read” the RFID cards are available to merchants and the general public
  • These scanners can interrogate the RFID card, and retrieve the information provided by the RFID chip on the card
  • This is a fairly simple process, and can certainly be done without the card owner knowing that it has been done.

Ability to use the retrieved information for fraudulent purchases

  • The assumption is that the RFID chip provides the same information that is embedded in the magnetic strip, which is the traditional method of swiping a credit card. So, if the RFID chip can be read, then the perpetrator has the ability to use that information to make fraudulent purchases.
  • ITRC’s investigation so far has indicated that some RFID card manufacturers have implemented security features which make it difficult or impossible to use the “hi-jacked” information to make a fraudulent transaction.

A company called Identity Stronghold is selling new products called Secure Sleeve and Secure Badgeholder. These products create an RFID shield to block electromagnetic energy necessary to transfer data from items with these chips such as debit/credit cards or passports. The jury is still out on whether this is a real threat to the 25% of credit/debit card holders with RFID chips and those issued a passport after 2006.

Keep checking the AllClear ID blog and ID theft resources page for more updates on this potential threat. Stay safe!