BBB Explains How to Protect Against “Electronic Pickpockets”

December 23, 2010

A disturbing abuse of technology allows someone to penetrate your wallet or handbag to steal your credit card, debit and smart card data while sitting or walking nearby.  It is called “Electronic Pickpocketing.”   The targets are people who carry so-called smart cards, which have small chips embedded in them.

The technique uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to allow anyone with a laptop computer and a device available on the Internet to walk through malls, airports and other public places to collect information from people’s wallets without ever having to approach them. 

RFID is commonly used as anti-shoplifting technology, security entrance cards, to allow automatic checkout at libraries and scanning of passports.  Large RFID scanners can be found surrounding exits of stores and libraries.

BBB says consumers can easily protect their information from RFID scanners by purchasing a special wallet or with a simple do-it-yourself method:

Cut two pieces of cardboard the size of a credit card, and wrap each dummy card with foil.  Place one of the foil cards on each side of the wallet to shield credit cards from RFID scanning.

RFID scanners also can penetrate a wallet head-on. Keep all cards with smart chips next to each other between the foil cards to make them more difficult to read.
As privacy advocates express concern about growing use of RFID and its vulnerabilities, manufacturers are working on ways limit their transmission range.

You can find more information on RFID technology at: