Picking Your Pocket Digitally

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 10:37am

Cheap gear allows users to steal your credit card info from a distance.

If your credit card is in your wallet and your wallet is deep in your purse or pocket then it would be impossible for someone at that moment to steal your credit card number, right?


If you have a credit card with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, you may be vulnerable to an electronic pickpocket.

Security expert Walt Augustinowicz shows how easy it can be for someone to steal your credit card information right out of your wallet without ever touching you.

He carries a card reading device concealed in an iPad case and merely holds it up to a pocket or purse to detect the card number, which then pops up on a laptop he holds.

All major credit card companies offer the technology.

"You don't even need the name, just credit card number and expiration date is all you need to make a transaction," says Augustinowicz.

In the U.S. there are about 75 million cards that currently have the tiny chip.

The scam is also cheap.

The card reading equipment inside this iPad case costs less than $100.

"People can read that from a distance," says Augustinowicz, who makes security sleeves and wallets to protect consumers from the RFID scam. "The bad guys know. It's you and me that need to know if not how are you going to protect yourself."

The electronic pickpocket is so quick that in a congested area like a shopping district it would be almost impossible to tell who got your number.

"It's like putting airbags on a baby buggy," explained Randy Vanderhoof from the Smart Card Alliance, which represents the credit card companies using RFID technology. "You can say that it provides additional safety, but do people need to be protected from something that doesn't seem to be a problem?"

Credit card companies say they have layers of security that would prevent electronic pick pocketing from becoming widespread.

None are aware of any fraudulent purchases made after stealing a number this way.

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