Electronic Pickpocketing is Possible, but Over-Hyped.
There is a new wave of hi-tech identity theft that allows thieves to steal your credit card information using inexpensive technology to intercept credit card (and sometimes even passport) information without even touching your wallet. Watch the video to the left or read our Electronic Pickpocket post to learn the basics.
And make sure you pay attention to the fact that the person they are interviewing for the news piece in the video MAKES MONEY FROM YOUR FEAR OF ELECTRONIC PICKPOCKETING! The gentleman they interview runs a company that makes shields for your credit cards and passports to stop electronic pickpocketing. I’m not saying that the products don’t work or aren’t somewhat valid; I’m saying that you have to take this gentleman’s perspective into consideration before buying the hype. He benefits from your fear, so do a little more research before you go gettin’ all paranoid.
The amount of hype this old form of theft is receiving (yes, this has been possible for years, despite all of the attention it’s getting now) is a bit overblown. Here are just a few reasons why:
- The person being interviewed in the video benefits from your fear of electronic pickpocketing.
- When a thief steals this information from you, they generally get your credit card number, expiration date and quite possibly your name. They DO NOT get your 3-digit security code or address. This is the same amount of information that the average waiter or retail clerk gets simply by looking at your card.
- Because they don’t get your 3-digit security code or address, it is much more difficult for them to use the credit card number to make purchases on the internet, as most sites require some form of address verification or 3-digit security confirmation.
- Only a fraction of cards utilize the RFID/Contactless Swipe technology, lowering your chances significantly.
- As long as you catch your card being used fraudulently (see the protection suggestions below), you will not be held liable for the losses, the business that accepted the illegal card will. Even if your information is used to make a new card, if you are monitoring your identity properly, your out of pocket will be minimal.
- Most cards only transmit 2-3 inches, which means that someone has to get a laptop-sized bag within two inches of your purse or wallet. This isn’t impossible, but it takes a fair amount of time and skill (notice how the news report doesn’t show them doing it without asking the people first). In most cases, this amount of work is too time intensive for the identity thief – it’s more lucrative to hack into a system that contains hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers (and other information) all in one place.
- Fraud departments in credit card companies have come a long way. Most credit card companies are able to detect fraud on your card faster that you can. More secure credit card companies will call to confirm suspicious purchases or purchasing patterns.
- If you want to get technical, which you probably don’t, credit card theft isn’t actually identity theft. They don’t have access to the personal items they need to actually steal your identity.
But it can happen, and it’s worth preventing. Which is simple:
- First, check to see if you even have credit cards with the ability to beam your information to an RFID receiver (look for the circled symbol in the photo to the right). If not, stop worrying and just monitor any future cards you receive.
- Second there are sleeves and wallets built to protect your cards and make them unable to scan and be lifted. Several companies, like Checks Unlimited make RFID wallets & products that shield the electromagnetic energy necessary to power and communicate with contactless smart cards, passports, and enhanced drivers licenses.
- Next, set up account alerts and monitor your statements to cover yourself in the small chance that it happens to you. That way if your credit card is compromised, you can detect it immediately and take the necessary steps to contact the bank, report the fraud, and cancel the card.
- If you are worried about having a credit card that can transmit your personal information, call your credit card company and ask them to send you a card that doesn’t transmit or have RFID capabilities (you know it transmits if it has the small broadcast or sonar icon circled to the left). Get rid of the source of the fraud!
- Never leave your purse or wallet in an easy to scan place. Get rid of all of the excess credit cards that you don’t use and lower the chances that one of them will be compromised.
- For added protection, especially for your Passport (which carries a much higher volume of very sensitive information), consider purchasing a sleeve or shield that makes RFID scanning less likely. Checks Unlimited offers a wide variety of these types of RFID blocking sleeves & cases.”
But whatever you do, don’t buy into the hype and paranoia just because a video has gone viral on YouTube.
John Sileo is the award-winning author of two identity theft prevention books, Stolen Lives and Privacy Means Profit (Wiley, August 2010) and America’s top Identity Theft Speaker. His clients include the Department of Defense, FTC, FDIC and Pfizer; his recent media appearances include 60 Minutes. Contact him on 800.258.8076.