The RFID credit card problem
Oh, I know, people out there think a lot of us who are concerned about being overly scrutinized by government or others are part of the "aluminum hat" crowd.
But I have to tell you folks, the problem is very real.
Imagine a scenario where everything you buy that costs more than a candy bar will sport a tracking device that allows others to track where you go and what you do.
Or, imagine a scenario where you are reviewing your credit card bill and notice purchases made during the current month when you know darn good and well you haven’t used your card this month.
Well, with the advent of RFID (short for radio-frequency identification) chips the possibility exists that someone might have acquired your information without your even being aware of it.
The RFID chip in a credit card emits the account number, name, expiration data and other information.
About 100 million credit cards now have this contactless technology embedded into them.
However, over the next 2-3 years, it is expected that credit card issuers will replace every single magnetic stripe credit and debit card with a new contactless smartcard.
Why shouldn’t they?
These cards seem to make it all easier.
So much easier that some folks are reading your credit cards before you even take them out of your wallet.
This means that you could be walking down the aisle at a store or along in a group of people in a shopping mall and someone with the proper equipment called a reader can scan your credit card while it’s in your wallet or purse.
Readers are used by a variety of retailers such as pharmacies, restaurants, fast food establishments and many others to allow you to conveniently and quickly pay for purchases.
Credit card companies will tell you it keeps your identity safer because your card is never out of your hands and readers include safety features to keep your data from being intercepted after being read from your card.
Fact is, readers can be easily purchased and attached to a laptop with very little difficulty and with little technical knowledge.
They’ve created cell phones with built-in card readers that steal your information.
How many times have you walked by someone carrying a briefcase?
Would you suspect that by simply walking by you this person could acquire your credit card number, expiration date and more to do with as they please?
Companies such as Chase (issuer of the Blink card) and American Express (ExpressPay) claim that RFID chips are built with strong encryption to protect your data.
However, a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts was recently able to construct scanners capable of skimming both the cardholder name and card number from a number of first-generation RFID credit cards.
Even scarier is the possibility of being constantly tracked through our clothes, shoes, passports or even our cash in the future.
Here’s how it could work.
Suppose you bought a suit at a men’s store and it has an RFID chip built in.
The store links your suit’s RFID tag with the credit card you used to buy it and recognizes you by name when you return.
The TV show Mythbusters was scheduled to air a segment on RFID vulnerabilities and Texas Instruments came along with the chief legal counsel from American Express, Visa, Discover and everybody else and the next thing you know the show doesn’t go on.
Leads one to speculate that where there’s smoke there must be fire.
There is a company that makes products to block the signals, so your choice is to buy their product or get a new credit card.
After becoming interested in this I checked my Chase credit card and, sure enough, it said "Blink" on the back.
If I held the card just right I could see exactly where the chip was embedded in it.
I called Chase and told them I wanted a card without the chip and after some argument agreed to send me one.
I cut the old card up but just happened to go right through the chip. I still have the pieces to show people the infernal thing.
The potential for government snooping on citizens is unlimited, and scary.
It helps to be informed and aware.
So, if you don’t want your credit card information scooped up by strangers to use against you then you must take the necessary action to protect it.
Remember, forewarned is forearmed.