Wireless Pickpockets Can Steal Credit/Debit Cards Without Reaching Into Your Purse or Wallet

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In my efforts to (1) alert you to consumer scams and (2) suggest ways to avoid them, I discovered this one.  It is pretty scary.

The Scam: Credit Card “Wireless” Skimming

If your credit card is in your wallet and your wallet is deep inside of your purse or pocket, then it would be impossible for someone at that moment to steal your credit card number, right? Wrong.

If you have a credit card or debit card with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, you may be vulnerable to an electronic pickpocket.  250 million credit cards have RFID chips in them.  These chips enable the credit card to be used without a “swiper”. You can use the RFID card to make a purchase by just “waving” the card next to a reader or skimmer.

The problem is thieves can cheaply and easily use their own readers to steal your credit card information without you knowing it.  NBC News did a report on how easy it is for these high tech pickpockets to steal your debit or credit card information:

Security expert Walt Augustinowicz showed NBC NewYork how easy it can be for someone to steal your credit card information right out of your wallet without ever touching you. He carried a card reading device concealed in an iPad case and merely held it up to a pocket or purse to detect the card number, which then popped up on a laptop he held.

“I’m just going to put this near your pocket, and there’s your Chase number,” Augustinowicz said during a demonstration on shopper Ishmael Osekre in SoHo who agreed to be interviewed. “Oh shoot, that’s insane,” Osekre said as he stared at his debit card number on a computer screen Augustinowicz held. RFID credit and debit cards are contact-less cards advertised as quicker than cash.  http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Protecting-Your-Plastic-116358499.html

“These thieves can walk by you at a shopping mall and steal your credit card information right out of your purse or wallet from up to 25 feet away, and you won’t even know it,” said Chris Gilpin, with the National Crime Stop Program.

The scam is also cheap. The card reading equipment costs less than $100. “The minute you make something wireless you are vulnerable…” according to Mr. Augutinowicz.

The Solution

There are several easy ways to avoid this problem:

  • Contact your bank or credit card company and ask if your card type includes an RFID chip: If your card doesn’t have an RFID chip, you are safe.
  • Ask your bank for a NON-RFID card: You can call your bank or credit card company and ask them to send you a debit or credit card WITHOUT an RFID chip.
  • Card protection “sleaves”: You can purchase credit card “protectors” or “sleaves” that the skimmers cannot see through.  I personally bought my own from Duane Reade that is made by a company called Tyvek. 
  • RFID wallets: RFID wallets will protect the cards you own from hackers passing by. All you have to do is put your money and cards in your wallet, and the material on the outside of the wallet will do the rest.
  • Account monitoring: Simply watching your account could be the best protection possible. Check every month for fraudulent charges. You could be a victim of identity theft no matter what kind of card you have.


I hope you are finding these alerts helpful.  I will be sure to always tell you a solution whenever I alert you to a problem!