New generation of credit cards pose little-known security risk

Better Business Bureau recommends using protective sleeves for credit cards with radio frequency identification chips.
by Paula Burkes Published: March 26, 2014
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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.”


by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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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.

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