Ask LH: Do RFID Blockers Actually Do Anything?

Ask LH: Do RFID Blockers Actually Do Anything?

Hi Lifehacker, a lot of people are trying sell RFID blockers to protect your card against getting skimmed via paywave while you are out and about. I was wondering if this was a thing that can actually happen or if they are just scaremongering to sell a product? Regards, Leon.

Dear Leon,

As more and more cards are wirelessly enabled for PayPass or PayWave or other ‘tap and go’ payment technologies, people are becoming more paranoid about what that entails. Could people just carry around an EFTPOS machine set to tap $99 straight out of your pocket? Can they sit on street corners and steal your credit card details without you noticing?

While the police have linked tap and go cards with an increase in related crimes, most of them seem to be a matter of the thieves actually stealing the card and going to town underneath the $100 limit. But does that mean that the aforementioned situation doesn’t happen?

There have been plenty of situations where security experts have demonstrated how such identity theft using RFID would happen, but few documented cases where this technique has been confirmed as the actual method used to commit a crime. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

The financial institutions who implemented the technology are quick to say that the cards are just as secure as they ever were, of course, but cautious people may in fact find some peace of mind in using an RFID blocker. However this doesn’t mean you have to pay out the nose for an expensive blocking wallet — you can make your own with silver epoxy or even plain old aluminium foil.

Of course, while this may be a concern of some people’s, one of the big problems with RFID scaremongering is that many will focus on that issue instead of the place where they’re far more likely to be hacked — online. Experts say Australians continue to have a cavalier attitude towards online security, despite proven risks — so perhaps before you invest in an RFID blocker, you should invest some time into tightening up your online security.

And remember: if someone does steal your card or somehow puts a dodgy payment through with tap and go, contact your bank as soon as possible and they will reimburse you for any money lost.

Cheers, Lifehacker

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  • My wallet happens to be a RFID blocker, but it’s a nuisance for travelling with an Opal card as I have to open my wallet for it to register on the reader.

    • Its a good thing its blocking your cards. Get you into the habit of swiping the single card before they introduce credit card scanning on those machines.

      If you ever seen someone throw their wallet/phone at the scanner for it to Error beep, until they lose it and pull out their card… each error beep was it scanning their credit card / or work ID.

      In England, they introduced Credit Card swipping on buses/trains and it cause a huge mess, cause the machines were scanning at random any card in the wallet, and giving the green light/chime. However if it didnt scan the same random card at the beginning / end you got charged the maximum amount on both cards (Opal or Credit Card). Lot of overcharging for months and people still make that mistake. Huge increase in RFID blockers in london at the time 😛

      • It was certainly my experiences of travelling in the UK/Europe that cautioned me to the ease and frequency of electronic card scams.

  • Numbers could be higher as these minor fraud cases are not reported to the police by banks.

  • Do RFID blockers do anything? Yes. Do you need them? No. The only exception to that might be your passport.

    Credit cards can’t be “cloned” via RFID, you can only make a $100 charge via tap and pay with them, without needing a PIN. BUT, you need to have a merchant account with a bank, or some kind of EFTPOS gateway service to actually do that. So, if someone was going around siphoning off $100 a pop from people’s cards on the train, the bank would know exactly where the money went, and would be pretty quickly recovered (and likely the merchant getting into a lot of trouble).

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