Chuck Schumer’s RFID Publicity Stunt

The senior senator from New York has spread misinformation about RFID in a blatant attempt to get a little publicity for himself.
Published: December 7, 2006

Chuck Schumer ought to be ashamed of himself. The senior senator from New York recently held a press conference on the streets of New York, which were bustling with holiday shoppers, to highlight the dangers of “contactless” or “no-swipe” credit cards—that is, cards that use radio frequency identification to communicate with a reader.

“Holiday shoppers need to be extremely careful with their credit cards,” he said, “and these companies need to step up their efforts to protect people from identity theft.”

Really, Chuck? No one has suggested that these cards could lead to identity theft. What some people have suggested is that criminals could purchase an RFID reader and read the data off a card without the holder knowing. This information, which might include name, credit-card number and expiry date, could be used for credit-card fraud—NOT identity theft.

Schumer might be misinformed, or he might be linking RFID to fears people have about identity theft because that’s likely to get more attention. Either way, the claim is bogus. These cards do not store your Social Security number, whereas you take a risk every time you hand your credit card to a waiter.

A story in the New York Post claimed criminals are buying readers and using them to get data off RFID credit cards. “It’s unclear how many crimes have occurred from illegal card readers,” the story says. “But Schumer said the number is growing every day.”

Really, Chuck? I follow RFID pretty closely, and I’ve never heard of a single incidence where someone’s information was hacked off a card and used without their knowledge. Not one.

The sad thing is that Schumer sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the nation’s tax, trade, Social Security and health-care legislation. He also sits on the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, so he has some influence over the finance industry in the United States. And yet, instead of using that power in a positive way, he’s standing on the street corner, spreading misinformation.

Here’s a suggestion for the esteemed senator from New York: Why don’t you focus on the pump-and-dump schemes where people use the Web or e-mail to push up the stock price of penny stocks, then sell the worthless stock to unsuspecting suckers? Why don’t you deal with all the phishing e-mails I get from criminals trying to get me to divulge the password to my bank account? Why don’t you deal with real identity theft and people who hack into databases and steal credit-card numbers?

In other words, Chuck, why don’t you focus on a real problem instead of inventing ones that don’t exist?