Spooky: Your Wallet Stolen by an Electronic Scan?

Imagine a thief stealing your wallet simply by waving his hand over your pocket or purse… it’s possible in today’s world, here’s how (and how to stop it)…
RFID - Stealing Information
Let us explain.
Thieves have found one more way to bypass supposedly “secure” technology to steal your money, your identity, and invade your privacy. In this case, they don’t even need to touch you – just get close to you.
What’s worse, this technology is rolling out into wider use by government agencies, both state and federal, adding one more area of risk for you and your family.

Picking Your Pocket
with a Wave of the Hand –

The radio frequency ID (RFID) chip is used primarily in commerce to track inventory. Applied in this respect, it’s very efficient. According to the RFID Journal (an industry trade magazine): “Radio frequency identification is the next wave in the evolution of computing. Essentially, it’s a technology that connects objects to the Internet, so they can be tracked…”
The problem: RFID technology is popping up on the items we carry on our own physical bodies, such as our driver’s license, credit card, and passport.
RFID Card Reader
For example, touchless credit cards are being issued more frequently by credit-card companies. The reason is because it makes purchases quicker, which is good for business. Just float your credit card above the touchless-equipped reader and pay; It’s even faster than swiping your credit card!
It also makes theft fast and easy. Demonstrations by security experts show how a pickpocket hides a touchless credit-card reader, bought online and connected to a small netbook computer or smartphone, tucked inside a handheld organizer easily “steals” the credit-card information right through a victim’s purse or pants pocket.
Armed with this information, the crook can create a fake credit card or simply use the information collected to make purchases online. One security expert says if he goes to a sports game, the mall, or movie theater on a busy day, he could someday steal thousands of credit cards without anyone ever knowing. A similar threat exists with the RFID on a driver’s license and passport.

How Are Such Elaborate Thefts
Even Possible?

Two primary variations of the RFID chips exist, active and passive:
RFID Chips Send Out Signals over a Radio Frequency
  • The active chip has its own power source (like a battery) and sends out a signal (on a radio frequency). This signal contains information. For inventory tracking, it would be the serial number, contents, destination, name of the manufacturer, etc. The signal is captured and read by an electronic reader, stored, and integrated with the rest of the computer network. This technology is in use to track rental cars, for example.
  • A passive chip doesn’t have its own power source. Instead, the electronic reader sends out a radio signal that activates the chip, then the RFID chip bounces back the stored information (your credit card, driver’s license, or passport information) to the reader.
Since information is floating on radio waves, any electronic reader tuned-in and at the right distance can capture your data. That’s all the touchless pickpockets really do. An active RFID chip can be read up to 300 feet away, a passive chip from 30 feet!

Is There Really a Risk for You?

The more this technology is used and the more information RFID chips contain, the more reason criminals have to abuse it, compromise it, and render it useless. Today, many driver’s licenses, passports, and credit cards already contain RFID chips, so the security risk is real and growing.
Theft - are you at risk from RFID chips?
  • Security researchers argue it’s possible to read RFID chips from inside a passing car!
  • Even government encryption used to protect data has already been cracked;
  • Information can be copied, as in the case with the credit card example above;
  • In some instances, information on an RFID chip can be changed by the reader itself. In other words, researchers rigged readers to write over and change information stored on an RFID chip. Someone with bad intentions could conceivably corrupt the information on your driver’s license or passport and cause you much grief with the authorities while trying to cross a border, for example;
  • Regarding RFID-equipped passports, each country’s passport sends out its own unique radio signal. This poses a security threat while traveling if you happen to carry a non-politically correct passport – even if it’s safely stored in your luggage or jacket pocket.
  • Privacy advocates fear governments will use these chips more for surveillance and identity verification. Reports from China suggest government officials are already using this technology to scan crowds of protesters to help stifle anti-government activism.

What Can You Do about It?

One individual demonstrated how he destroyed the RFID chip in his new credit card by hammering a small nail through it. He reasoned the magnetic strip still worked, and he didn’t need or want his credit card broadcasting his information. (You could go this route, but it’s probably not advisable with your government-issued RFID documents, because it could come with a penalty.)
Your other options are to wrap the document in a metal like aluminum foil or buy a protective sleeve or stylish wallet designed to block the radio signals from the RFID chip. In fact, the State Department actually recommends doing this with your passport.
RFID may have some benefits, but it is a major threat to your privacy. Be wary.