Stealing data from contactless cards is relatively easy, especially in crowded places. Criminals can use a credit card reader to steal the data on your card without it ever leaving your purse or pocket. Next, they may create a duplicate card and use it to spend your hard-earned money. Luckily, there are measures you can take to prevent skimming, shimming and other types of credit card fraud.
Criminals can use skimmers, shimmers and other devices to scan credit or debit card data on the go. Generally, RFID-enabled cards are the most vulnerable to these practices.
What's a Credit Card Reader?
Skimmers and shimmers allow criminals to steal credit card information on the go. They usually target contactless cards equipped with RFID chips. Radio-frequency identification, or RFID, uses radio waves to transfer data. This technology has various applications in the banking, retail and healthcare industries, explains the FDA. Just like retail workers can scan the RFID tags on the labels, criminals can access and "read" credit card data.
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RFID technology allows customers to tap their cards when paying for a purchase. Generally, RFID debit and credit cards feature a logo that resembles the WiFi symbol turned on its side. Skimmers and shimmers use radio waves to identify and read RFID-enabled cards. These devices can pick up signals even if you're keeping the card in your pocket or wallet. Criminals may also use their smartphones as RFID readers just by downloading an app.
A wireless RFID credit card skimmer can read your data in a matter of seconds. However, thieves must get close enough to your card to steal the information, points out the Seattle Times. On top of that, they cannot take a lot of money at once because most banks require entering a PIN for transactions over a certain dollar amount.
If you're concerned about credit card fraud, consider using an RFID-blocking wallet, card sleeve or other similar products. Thick aluminum foil will do the trick, too. Simply wrap your card in foil and then place it in your wallet. Another option is to use a cardholder made from copper or alloy nickel. Any of these materials can block RFID signals and deter criminals.
How to Protect Your Card
Millions of Americans fall victim to credit card fraud each year, reports the Federal Trade Commission. Criminals can use your credit card data for identity theft, fraudulent transactions and other illegal activities. Considering these risks, it makes sense to take some extra steps to protect yourself. For starters, check your account statements at least once a week. Contact your bank if you notice any suspicious activity.
Limit the number of cards you carry with you on a daily basis. Better yet, stick to credit cards when traveling or making in-store purchases. Credit cards limit your liability for unauthorized use to $50, according to the University of California, Davis. That's not the case with debit cards. If you have several cards, only take the ones that you're going to use.
Another thing you can do to protect your debit or credit cards is to use payment apps. Leave your cards at home (or only take one with you) and use Apple Pay or Google Pay in stores. Skimmers and other similar devices cannot read the information on your phone. If you must use a credit card reader at gas pumps, check it for scratches, raised areas or broken security seals. Wiggle the card slot and keypad to make sure there are no skimmers attached to the machine.
- FDA: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
- Seattle Times: What You Should Know About How RFID Cards Work — and How to Protect Them
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Sentinel Network
- University of California, Davis: Shop Cyber-Smart - Secure Your Credit Cards
- Security National Bank: How to Spot and Avoid a Credit Card Skimmer at the Gas Pump