What is Electronic Pickpocketing?
Electronic pickpocketing – also known as digital pickpocketing – is a growing concern in a world where cashless transactions are becoming the norm.
Criminals are now able to secretly use a Radio Frequency Identification or “RFID” credit card reader to swipe money away from your credit card.
How does electronic pickpocketing work?
You don’t have to take your credit card out of your wallet or purse in order for a criminal to steal your identity or money.
And when the theft is happening, you likely won’t even know about it.
Thieves can take advantage of wireless technology that allows them to “skim” away certain aspects of credit cards or other objects built with RFID technology.
It could happen while you’re walking down the sidewalk, pumping fuel at a gas station, or paying for your meal at a restaurant.
Your debit or credit card could be equipped with a very small radio antenna and computer chip, which are used to send your account information from the card to another electronic device.
Some security experts believe the information from these cards can be used to make a counterfeit credit card, which would theoretically allow identity thieves to make unauthorized purchases with the cloned card.
Sometimes these skimmers can steal your PIN number. Crooks can buy the necessary equipment for less than $100 online.
With an electronic card reader in their hands, thieves can simply connect the device to a computer to see a skimmed card’s account number, its expiration date and other security details.
According to Consumer Reports, account data can be transmitted between a crook’s card reader and your credit card from just a few inches away.
Is my card equipped with RFID?
It’s actually easy to figure out whether your debit card or credit card can be used without making contact.
If you can’t see the wireless chip and antenna on the card, just look for the Universal Contactless Card Symbol, which looks like a WiFi signal laying on its side.
If you still aren’t sure, ask your bank or credit card company.
How do I protect myself?
The threat of a growing trend in electronic pickpocketing is enough reason to take preventative measures.
According to Consumer Reports, in 2011, some 35 million “contactless” chip cards were being used in the United States. That number has no doubt grown.
One option manufacturers have introduced: “shield” or other RFID-blocking devices like wallets or sleeves to deflect the sharing of data between a credit card and electronic card reader.
There is some debate as to whether these products are effective, so experts recommend researching the product and its promises before spending money.
Some credit card companies offer security services that alert you when your account reaches a pre-determined expense limit.
Other services associate your credit card with a geographical region, and may connect the use of your card to your cell phone.
If the card is being used by a digital pickpocketer in a different location than your phone, the transaction can be blocked.
Financial experts say it’s often better to use a credit card instead of a debit card.
If that’s not an option, see if you can use your debit card as a credit card, which will allow you to avoid entering your PIN number.