Digital Pickpockets: The New Threat to Your Identity

Credit Cards

No matter how aware you are about safeguarding personal belongings and confidential information, you don’t have complete control. Now you need to worry about digital pickpockets swiping your credit card information during your subway commute or when pumping gas at a rest stop. Los Angeles County law enforcement recently found two credit card skimmers at gas station pumps in Temple City, CA, KABC-TV reports. Skimming is the latest threat to your identity, and it can happen virtually anywhere, thanks to RFID technology.

How Skimmers Operate

RFID technology-operated credit cards require a quick tap to scan, rather than the magnetic swipe traditionally used by cards. The RFID chip emits a constant stream of unencrypted information, which can be picked up by any device equipped to tune into that frequency. Among the information transmitted? Your credit card number and expiration date.

Anyone with a device that picks up radio frequency can scan for nearby RFID devices and obtain the number. Because of rising near field communication or NFC smartphones, a smartphone can be used to read your credit card data, capture it and transmit it in a store, reports Matt Markovich of Komo News.

Programs like MasterCard’s PayPass also aid criminals. PayPass stores credit card information on your phone, and you tap into a POS monitor to pay. Since you don’t give your card (or any identification) to a clerk, there’s no way to verify if you’re using your PayPass card or if you wrongfully have someone else’s data stored.

The Arizona Daily Independent informs that nearly one-third of credit cards issued in the U.S. have the RFID chip. If you have three credit cards, it’s likely one of them has the RFID chip. Identify the chip by turning over the card and look for a sign of curved lines that go from smaller to larger, somewhat like a Wi-Fi symbol.

Ways To Stay Safe

Although credit card companies have indicated they may begin encrypting data to prevent fraud, none have done so as of September, 2013, reports the Arizona Daily Independent. The onus falls on you to monitor and protect your identity.

As a first line of defense, make it a habit to review your credit card and bank statements at least once a month. If you see any unusual transactions, contact your credit card company or bank. While reversing charges, the claim process can be lengthy. If skimmers steal your debit card and deplete your bank account, you’ll need a loan in the meantime.

An identity protection service, such as Lifelock, provides round-the-clock monitoring against security threats and skimming. Specialists will notify you of any suspicious activity on your card. This service acts as an extra cushion for regularly monitoring your statements.

If you discover your card has an RFID chip, and you don’t think you’ll use it (or don’t want the fear of identity theft), call your credit card company and ask them to send you a card without the RFID technology.

Author: Dave Nielsen

I started using computers in 1978 on the Apple II and was first online (using my “high-speed” 1200 baud modem) in 1989. I’ve managed web sites for several Fortune 500 companies and for internet start-ups. Working for one of those start-ups is what brought me into the world of credit. I was part of the the executive team that ran QSpace, the first company to offer credit reports over the internet.

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