If you have a credit card, there’s a good chance it poses a security risk of which many consumers are unaware.
An estimated one-third of all credit cards — including Visa, Mastercard and American Express — have an embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that carries personal data — which digital thieves can steal in seconds.
Call it digital pickpocketing, wireless identity theft, RFID identify theft, contact-less identity theft or drive-by digital attacks. Whatever. Using digital readers they buy off the Internet for about $100, unscrupulous people — without touching you — can steal your account number, card expiration date and other information off your card, while it’s tucked inside your wallet or billfold, inside your pants pocket or purse.
In one report circulating on the Web, a security expert lifted an account number and expiration date from the card of a willing airport traveler, copied it onto the magnetic strip of a hotel room key and, at the counter of a nearby McDonald’s, swiped the fraudulent card to buy dinner.
I recently got a Chase Sapphire card with a chip, which was suggested by my banker after she learned I was planning a trip to Italy this summer. There are no exchange fees with the card, she said. Plus, RFID cards are prevalent across Europe, and some restaurants and other establishments accept only such cards, she said.
Subsequently, a travel agent at Bentley Hedges Travel enlightened me to the need for protective sleeves for such credit cards, which users merely can wave in front of readers at cash registers. Cards with only the magnetic strip must be swiped manually to make a payment.
The sleeves, the agent said, block threats of identify theft, and the Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma offers them for free.
I enlisted Kitt Letcher, president and chief executive of the BBB, to answer questions and answers for an article that ran Tuesday in our section.
“The overall goal for embedding an RFID chip into not only credit and debit cards, but also passports and other forms of identification, is to consolidate the data we carry around to one easy-to-use location,” Letcher said. “However, this form of technology comes with the electronic pick-pocketing risk that all consumers should know about.”
“If your credit or debit card has the Wi-Fi symbol, usually three curved lines each larger than the next, then we recommend storing the card in one of our protective sleeves,” Letcher said. “In addition, consumers can ask their bank to re-issue them a card without this technology. Some companies are researching ways to incorporate a PIN (personal identification number) to better protect card users, but until then, it’s best to be aware,” she said.
By lunchtime Tuesday, the BBB already had given away sleeves to nine Oklahomans. “One man worked nearby at Mathis Brothers; others were running errands on their lunch hours,” receptionist Tina Smith said. “Most hadn’t heard about the information and were very thankful for it.”
One man said he carries cash, but his wife carries a credit card, she said.
Smith, who previously worked at Starbucks, said many of her customers at that retailer wrapped their credit cards in tinfoil for protection.
Letcher said the BBB is happy to provide the service to the community. “We want people to safeguard their credit cards and money, and to be as safe as they possibly can,” she said.
“People really need to be vigilant in reviewing their monthly credit card statements,” she said.
“Be sure to reconcile your receipts with your charges.”
Identity theft victims generally aren’t liable for more than $50 if they notify financial institutions within two days of learning of their loss. But they can spend years trying to fix credit problems. I know, having had my purse stolen twice.
When I embark this summer on my lifelong dream trip to Venice, I plan to empty my purse of my checkbook, library card, debit and other cards, and take only the identification that I need. You can be sure my RFID credit card will be safely tucked away in its protective sleeve.
Credit card sleeves are available free at the Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma, 17 S Dewey Ave. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.