Connecticut Better Business Bureau Warns Consumers About Credit-Card Skimming

The organization claims RFID can be used to steal credit-card data, but no consumers have ever reported being ripped off in this manner.
Published: January 11, 2011

On Dec. 16, 2010, the Connecticut Better Business Bureau (BBB) put out a press release entitled “Thieves Using Anti-Theft Technology Can Steal Credit and Debit Card Information from Several Feet Away.”

The release states, “A disturbing abuse of technology allows someone to penetrate your wallet or handbag to steal your credit, 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.”

I was surprised by this release, since no one, to my knowledge, has ever had their credit card stolen and used fraudulently due to radio frequency identification. Therefore, I called Howard Schwartz, the Connecticut BBB’s communications director, to ask if there had been any complaints filed by consumers. He indicated that hadn’t been the case, and that he was alerted to the issue during a radio interview. After conducting some research, he told me, he felt it was worth explaining to consumers how they can protect themselves.

I don’t have a big problem with the BBB issuing a release, though I think this statement is inaccurate: “…anyone with a laptop computer and a device available on the Internet can walk through malls, airports and other public places to collect information from people’s wallets without ever having to approach them.” You actually need to get within a few inches to skim a credit card.

I also wish the release had pointed out that magstripe cards are unsafe, and that RFID cards have protections built into them that make it impossible to use the card more than once.

Schwartz says the BBB was not trying to suggest RFID is a bad technology, only that if people are concerned, they can easily take steps to protect themselves. The release states that consumers can purchase a special wallet or “simply 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.”

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.