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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? Wrong. (Published Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011)
Updated at 12:21 PM EDT on Thursday, Feb 2, 2012
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? Wrong.
If you have a credit card with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, you may be vulnerable to an electronic pickpocket.
Top New York News Photos of 2010
Security expert Walt Augustinowicz showed NBCNewYork 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.
"I'm just going to put this near your pocket, and there's your Chase number," Augustinowicz said during a demonstration on shopper Ishmael Osekre in SoHo who agreed to be interviewed.
"Oh shoot, that's insane," Osekre said as he stared at his debit card number on a computer screen Augustinowicz held. RFID credit and debit cards are contact-less cards advertised as quicker than cash.
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.
"It's definitely frightening and there is definitely an infringement on privacy," said Brooklyn's Christian Robinson, who had his card read by Augustinowicz’s device.
The scam is also cheap. The card reading equipment inside this iPad case costs less than $100. "The minute you make something wireless you are vulnerable."
"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.
"There should be at least a warning that within a certain proximity you have to keep it shielded," said Matthew Lean, who had his credit card number picked up by Augustinowicz's device.
"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 told NBC New York 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.
Published at 9:03 AM EDT on Feb 17, 2011