Travel, Wallet Cases, Wallets

Do RFID Wallets Work?

do rfid wallets workAlready, RFID blocking wallets are a growing trend but expect them to become the universal norm within the next year or two. RFID, which stands for “radio frequency identification,” is a term that refers not to some high-tech radio waves sent by the wallet itself, but to a feature of many modern credit cards. Instead of just using magnetic strips to convey data, many cards also have tiny chips in them that respond to certain types of payment terminals at stores. These chips allow your card to send payment information to the point-of-transaction terminal—without having to swipe the card at all.

RFID wallets, then, are wallets that are designed to block signals between your card’s RFID chip and external readers. Theoretically, an RFID wallet should keep a payment terminal (or something more sinister) from scooping payment information from your card while it is stowed away safely in your pocket.

The big question is, do RFID wallets work? Let’s start with some background questions first.

Does Your Card Have an RFID Chip?

credit card chipHow do you know if you have an RFID credit card? Well, think back to the materials you received when your card was first mailed to you, or when you signed up for the card in the first place. Was a “contactless payment” feature ever touted in those materials? If so, then your card has an RFID chip inside of it.

Each major credit card company has a different name for its contactless payment method. With Visa cards, it’s “Paywave.” With MasterCard cards, it’s “PayPass.” With American Express cards, it’s “ExpressPay.” These functions have a number of advantages to them. For one thing, they make payments quicker and more convenient. Just hold your card near the point-of-sale terminal and the RFID chip should activate and send your payment information where it needs to go. For another, you can avoid repeated swiping of your card, which can slowly deteriorate the magnetic strip until it is no longer readable.

The Drawbacks of RFID Credit Cards

The problem with using RFID chips in credit or debit cards is that those cards become vulnerable to remote reading. When you have a traditional magnetic strip credit card, with no RFID chip and no contactless payment technology, the ways in which someone can access information from that card are extremely limited. The card itself must be swiped or scanned, or someone must have access to your credit card number, security code, and expiration date. Someone can use your card by stealing the card itself, by seeing the card and memorizing the numbers, or by hacking a database and accessing the numbers that way.

RFID chips introduce a new way for criminals to get ahold of your credit card data. Though relatively rare (and far from cheap), there are scanners that can activate RFID chips and steal their credit card data. In other words, a cybercriminal could feasibly be standing right next to you, activate his RFID scanner, and steal your credit card information—even if your card was still tucked in your wallet and stowed in your pocket.

Do RFID Wallets Work? The Answer Is Yes… Mostly

RFID blocking wallets are designed to prevent this kind of digital pickpocketing from happening. These wallets are made with special fabrics that insulate your card and essentially form a “shield” around it, making it difficult for any outside signals to activate the RFID chip inside the card. In other words, while your card is stored in one of these wallets, it should be as safe as it would be behind a force field.

make use of logoThis point brings us to the question posed by the title of this article: do RFID wallets work? The answer is yes…mostly. Sites such as MakeUseOf have done tests and found that not all RFID blocking wallets are created equal. In most cases, function and price are going to go hand in hand here. The cheaper the RFID wallet, the less effective it will be in blocking signals and protecting your credit card data. If you want to invest in one of these solutions, best is to splurge for a premium product. Reading reviews can also direct you toward the RFID wallets that work—and steer you away from the ones that don’t.

Are RFID Wallets Necessary?

Perhaps the better question is whether or not RFID blocking wallets are really necessary. If some of these wallets work and others don’t, is there a point in buying one? Especially if you might not know whether or not it is working until it’s too late?

This articleslate from Slate notes that most credit card companies would tell you your card is safe, even without RFID protection. RFID scanning and credit card cloning are not new forms of cyber-crime, and credit card companies, to their credit, have started defending against it. As the Slate article states, most RFID cards send a one-time code for each transaction, rather than delivering unencrypted credit card information to a scanner that may or may not belong to a point-of-sale terminal.

travel money beltAs a result, even if a thief does get your card information, they probably won’t be able to use it more than once. Will cyber-criminals really invest the money necessary to buy an RFID scanner if they can only use every stolen card once? Some probably will, but less than if it was still easy to intercept full, unencrypted credit card numbers.

Still, it’s difficult to know exactly how much encryption your credit card company is using to protect your payment information. And since credit cards and debit cards aren’t the only sensitive items using RFID technology these days—it’s also becoming more common in passports, driver’s licenses, and other forms of ID—having an RFID blocking wallet can go a long way in keeping your money, your identity, and your peace of mind protected.

If you are interested in trying out an RFID blocking wallet, check out e-Holster’s travel money belt with RFID blocking! This brand new product is ideal for keeping your cards and passport safe from digital thieves while you are traveling abroad.