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Electronic Pickpocketing

April 29, 2014, 10:10 PM by Angela Kennecke

Electronic Pickpocketing

You'll want to pull out your credit card and take a close look at it.

Millions of cards now have a tiny device in them that can make you susceptible to identity theft and fraud.

We're all used to swiping our debit and credit cards--but paying is getting even faster thanks to a little device in millions of cards that allows you to just wave and sign. 

"It's a matter of convenience; but convenience is the reverse of security," Security Expert Marc Tobias said.

This convenient way to pay is thanks to a tiny chip in the card that operates on radio frequencies.  It's called Radio Frequency Identification.  And that means your card is sending out a radio signal.  You can tell if your card has a chip if it has this symbol on it and says Blink, PayPass or payWave.

And if you have one of these cards there's something you should know.

"They all end up transmitting a signal and that signal can be intercepted by bad guys," Tobias said.

Security Expert Marc Tobias says thieves used to have to buy a $40 device like this off the Internet to steal the credit card information. 

"This is an RFID reader that I ordered from Radio Shack," Tobias said.

It can pick up signals and capture coded information on anything from door cards to passports to credit cards--all containing an RFID chip. 

And while that was easy enough, there are now apps, like SquareLess, that can be downloaded on newer Android phones.  We took an Android phone with the app to a coffee shop.

Angela: Is that your number?
Jessica Chereneger: Yes, that's kind of scary.

"Hmmm.. so it read it? We don't need that. We have enough trouble with our credit cards without that," Pat Dempster said.

Angela: I come up to your purse or your wallet and I've got your number. I've got your expiration date.
Jessica: All of the things you would need to open a new card or make purchases.

"If I can drain your bank account by standing next to you, gather the data and go suck all the money out of your bank account, that is a huge consumer problem," Tobias said.

And here's what else thieves can do if they get your credit card number and expiration date. With one of these $300 boxes, they can take any card with a magnetic strip, even a hotel room card and load the stolen credit card information on it and use it anywhere a clerk doesn't look at a card. 

"It's easy, it's easy," Tobias said.

Now granted, you do have to be close to the card for electronic pick pocketing with the Android phone app.  But Tobias says thieves will find ways to take advantage of the technology. 

"Everyone says, Oh, this is Sioux Falls, SD, or Kennebec or Pierre-nobody is doing that kind of thing here-well actually they are.  And people do need to be vigilant," Tobias said.

So what can you do to protect your card? Anything metal will block the signal from hackers. You can put your card in a metal case, or simply wrap it in tinfoil.

"I've been shopping for purses and I saw there are new wallets that have a way to interfere with the radio signal. I think they're lined with metal or something," Cherenegar said.

"I'll be getting rid of it. Thank you," Dempster said.

But you don't have to go to that extreme. You can also ask your bank to issue you one without the RFID chip in it. 

Apple has not adopted the same technology in its phones as Androids, so you can't use the RFID reader on an iPhone.

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