Pick pockets used to have to be stealth and smooth to swipe your wallet, now with an electronic scanner and RFID enabled credit cards their job is even simpler.

Radio Frequency Identification technology, otherwise known as RFID technology, is the newest type of credit card and identity security on the technology block that is already in wide use. Like most other types of technological security, however, RFID is not totally secure. The radio frequencies used to send the information about your account number, balance and identification can be intercepted using special scanners that are available for purchase without any regulations or requirements for purchasing them. This means any savvy criminal can have a scanner in their pocket and while in line behind you at the store can steal your credit card information.

Where RFID is Most Common

European countries depend heavily on RFID technology. Estimates state that over three-quarters of all automated teller and store transactions using credit or debit cards in Europe are run via RFID technology. This can mean headaches for travelers from other countries visiting these places, because even though the bank machines and stores should be able to accept your old-fashioned credit card with the strip on the back does not mean they actually will. When planning travel to European countries it is key that you address this issue with either your credit card company or your bank, depending on how you expect to use money while overseas. Consider carrying traveler’s cheques and transferring them into local currency at your destination to avoid credit card challenges associated with the increased use of RFID technology.

In the United States, newer passports also have RFID chips embedded into them. Other countries started by putting RFID chips into identification documents like passports and government sponsored identification cards so this may mean the chip-based technology is something that will be coming to the United States soon.

How You Can Protect Yourself from RFID Theft

These RFID chips are susceptible to theft because “scanners” owned by thieves can read the information off your card from up to three or four feet away from you. There is even speculation that advanced engineers can increase the effect of scanners used to skim the information from RFID enabled credit cards and get the information from even further away. The most important protective measure is to always be aware of your surroundings because most skimming occurs either at restaurants or when you lose your credit card. By increasing your overall awareness, you are minimizing your risk. To keep your cards and passport safe from scanners you may not see around you, keep them in one of the new RFID blocking wallets or passport cases. These simple wallets are lined with a material that blocks all the scanners from being able to access the information on your RFID chip and can be found well under $15.  The small investment in the wallet or passport cover could end up saving you not only money, but the stress and time involved with having your credit card or identity stolen. Many brands you have heard of before like Travelon offer the wallets and they come in a variety of shades of leather, or other sturdy materials. You can find options just to hold your passport, or just to hold your credit cards or a combination of both. The variety is impressive for a product that was launched relatively recently.

The Spread of RFID Technology

What started out as an advance in safety is now much more than that. You may have seen the commercial depicting a young man in a coat walking through the grocery store picking up different items and stuffing them in his coat. As he progresses through the store, more people watch him and you even get a glance at a security camera trained on him walking through the aisles. As he approaches the exit, there is a beep and a light that flashes from a terminal. He keeps walking through the exit and the security guard stops him to make sure he does not forget his receipt. This is one way RFID technology can be used, because the items in the supermarket can have their own RFID code that can be read, then the shopper has their credit or debit card with RFID technology imbedded that can instantly be charged for all the items the shopper leaves with. These types of transactions are not yet available in the United States, but once overseas experiments prove they save time and money they will surely be introduced in North America.

Like most technological advances, there is a definite benefit along with a distinct drawback. Balancing the two is the way to make sure you do not get taken advantage of. Stay informed of the status of any places you plan to visit and watch for RFID chips in cards you use. If you have them, make sure to be careful when using them. A heightened sense of awareness is a simple way to keep all of your personal belongings safer, along with the RFID blocking wallets to keep you safe from hidden scanners.