In this article:
Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
Can Scammers Steal Your Credit Card Numbers Without Your Card?
Since the introduction of chip containing credit cards into the American marketplace, we’ve been hearing the stories: how someone can stand behind you in line at a store and use a technical device to swipe your credit card information. It’s silent, quick, and intrusive. But have you heard of it happening to any of your friends?
We see “RFID Protection” as a feature stamped on plenty of wallets – and sometimes we even consider shelling out a few extra dollars for the added security feature. But what is RFID protection, and is it really worth it?
What Is RFID? Is It In Your Credit Card?
RFID stands for Radio-Frequency Identification, and refers to a chip that has the ability to transmit data. For credit cards equipped with an RFID chip payment details can be transmitted without the card being swiped or inserted.
The biggest selling point for RFID chips is that they keep transactions quick and easy: a card can simply be held near a point of sale, the receiver inside the POS picks up the payment details, and the transaction is completed.
But while this seems simple, there’s one big drawback to RFID credit cards: the card details that the RFID chip is transmitting aren’t encrypted.
In fact, when RFID was first introduced, the card details were being transmitted in plain text. Transmitting your card details in plain text has similar security to you speaking your credit card details out loud and having the cashier input the information into their point of sale. If someone behind you in line wanted to write your card number down, they could, because there’s nothing protecting your information.
So how do you know if your credit card is RFID equipped? Though we’ve been using the word “chip”, it’s likely not the chip you’re thinking of. If you have a credit card with a visible metallic chip in it that you insert into a POS in order to pay – that’s not RFID. It's the chip and PIN system, which is by all accounts quite secure.
An RFID chip is typically embedded inside of a credit card, and is only visible if you hold the card up to the light. If you can see a tiny, rectangular bump in the card: that’s the RFID chip. If you can tap your credit card on the POS instead of inserting or swiping it, then you’ve got an RFID chip. RFID chips are in about 5% of US credit cards.
How Does RFID Scanning Work?
With the security vulnerabilities of early RFID, criminals were quick to figure out how to exploit them.
Criminals took to building small devices, about the size of a smartphone, that could fit in a pocket or small bag. When these devices are turned on and in range of an RFID enabled credit card, they activate the radio frequencies in RFID chips and transmit their information to the device – just like a POS system completing a transaction. The device stores the information, where the criminal is able to access it.
This is a silent and quick process that only involves proximity: as soon as the device is close enough to the RFID enabled credit card, the information is scanned, stored, and stolen. The only way you know that you’ve been targeted is when fraudulent charges begin showing up on your credit card statement.
To answer this problem, a technology called a “Faraday cage” began being added to wallets. The Faraday cage blocks a range of radio frequencies- meaning that the radio waves from the RFID scanning device are blocked by the Faraday cage. Unable to reach the RFID chip in the credit card, no information is transmitted, and your card details remain safely inside your wallet.
The idea that this magnitude of theft can happen without your knowledge is intimidating, and would make any number of us go out and buy an RFID blocking wallet immediately. But before you do, you should know that if you have an RFID enabled card, there is about a 1% chance that you’ll become a victim of this type of crime. There are so few RFID enabled credit cards out there that the payout of this crime is not necessarily worth the time and resources that go in to committing it.
Overall, here's the situation that you should consider: can your information be stolen from an RFID scanner if you don’t have an RFID blocking wallet? Yes. Will your information be stolen from an RFID scanner if you don’t have an RFID blocking wallet? Most likely, no. But you know what they say: peace of mind is priceless.
If you have an RFID enabled credit card and are interested in taking the extra steps to secure your financial well being, we’ve done some digging and included our favorite, most secure picks below.
Recommendations For RFID-Blocking Wallets
Recommendation #1: Bryker Hyde Minimalist or Executive Bifold Wallet
If you’re looking for an RFID blocking wallet that still has traditional style and functionality, a Bryker Hyde Wallet is the way to go.
Made of high-quality materials and a unique metal blend of composite metals, the Bryker Hyde Minimalist and Executive Bifold wallets are equipped with RFID technology that blocks both low and high radio frequencies at 125KHz and 10MHz to 3000MHz signals. This includes 13.56 MHz, which is typically what's used by credit cards.
Recommendation #2: The Ridge Wallet
The Ridge Wallet is compact, smart, and non-traditional. If you lean towards keeping your wallets slim and easy to maintain, the Ridge Wallet will make a great choice. With room for 1-12 cards and an interchangeable clip or strap on the outside of the wallet for cash, the Ridge Wallet is also RFID blocking and will protect you from wireless theft.
Recommendation #3: Flipside Wallet
The Flipside Wallet might be our favorite on this list - both because it’s the most secure, and it’s style sets it apart.
The Flipside wallet is a crush resistant, RFID blocking wallet that looks more like a “portable vault that fits in your pocket” than somewhere that you keep your cash and cards. If you’re someone who enjoys the newest thing and doesn’t mind deviating from the norm - this wallet is right up your alley.
In addition to the RFID blocking capabilities, this wallet ensures your privacy by lessening the ability for someone to shoulder surf while you’re in line to pay, or rifling through your wallet on the subway.