Credit cards, debit cards, passports, ID cards, and vehicle toll passes, all employ RFID or Radio Frequency Identification Technology. This technology utilizes an antenna located in a chip in the card which receives electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader and then transforms that energy into a radio frequency which transmits information back to the reader. It creates quicker, more efficient transactions eliminating the traditional machines required to swipe and read magnetic strips. An RFID chip enabled device only requires a reader at the point of sale.

RFID technology was once limited to just tracking cattle, but now we track vehicles, military personnel, airline passengers, Alzheimer’s patients, and pets. RFID technology is becoming a big part of everyone’s lives. The issue is, that your RFID products can potentially be read from a distance. A thief may be able to read credit card or user account information from a distance as you walk by. There are solutions available on the market, but before you buy an RFID-blocking product, you need to know if you’re worried about a real issue.

IMG: RFID contactless payment logo

Here are a few considerations:

Does your credit card even have an RFID-enabled chip? Today, most do not.  How many times has a cashier asked you if you had an RFID enabled card or presented you with an RFID enabled credit card reader? Typically, people with cards look for places to use them more than there are places available for them to be used. Most of the RFID-enabled credit cards are heavily marketed as being wirelessly capable. Many of the leading companies selling products that imply ‘wireless payments’ are PayPass, PayWave, Express Pay, and so on. Often, these products will have an RFID contactless payment logo.

According to current trends, the majority of the world is going to use wireless payments with their mobile devices. Apple Pay had more users and adopters in their markets at launch than the total number of active users of RFID credit card products combined, and that’s not to mention Samsung and Android pay. Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and Apple Pay all work with nearly every credit card you have if it is supported by your vendor. The thing is, Samsung, Android, and Apple pay are some of the most secure methods of payment you can use. This implementation of RFID nearly eliminates the concerns (and potentially the need) of using the technology on credit cards and payment implements directly.

Just like the days when you feared thieves snatching your cell phone number out of the air while you drove by on the highway, the days when a bad guy can sit in a corner and try to sniff your account or card information out of the air, are numbered.

IMG: Cold Swiss Spring What’s In My Bag. Do8y. Flickr.

But is this all just paranoia?

You must ask if that thief or hacker was ever sitting there trying to steal your information in the first place? You may have seen one of the evening news specials warning of the dangers of these RFID thieves, but, this would be a waste of a criminal mastermind’s time. The majority of cyber thieves target high pay off low-risk targets like websites, or corporations where they can steal hundreds of thousands to millions of credit cards, identities or user accounts in one fell swoop versus sitting on the corner ‘nickel and diming’ it trying to sniff behind your butt for the card in your wallet.

If a technologically advanced thief or hacker wanted access to some credit card information, he or she could buy it online from several easily accessible places on the internet. It would be significantly easier and cheaper than buying all the necessary equipment and learning all the technology necessary to “attempt” to steal a few dozen credit card numbers while risking sitting in a public place.

So what does this mean for travelers?

If you are still concerned about the dangers of losing your well-deserved earnings to the likes of these digital hooligans, you don’t need to drop $70 to $150 on an RFID blocking wallet, you can simply wrap your items in aluminum foil and get the same result. Many may start emailing me or commenting that this or that wallet will perform better or is more sleek or stylish, but if you know like I know — a lot of money was made over Y2K, but the danger was not what it was purported to be. If, however, you do want to be extra careful. While you’re wrapping your cards, you might as well start wrapping your car key, cell phone, and Bluetooth-enabled devices while you entertain guests.


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