WDAY: The News Leader

Published February 20, 2011, 09:59 AM

New technology for credit cards adds risk of theft

(WDAY TV) - You check your credit report, look over your bank statements, and hold your purse or wallet close to you in large groups. Think you're safe from having your money stolen? Think again, if you have a card that utilizes a growing technology. First News Anchor Chastity Walberg has more on how thieves could get your information through electronic pick-pocketing.

“It's convenient credit card technology.”

Radio Frequency Identification Tags are being added to some credit and debit cards to make it easier for you to purchase items by just waving your card over a payment terminal. Aaron Reinholz is the associate director for Electronics Technology at NDSU's Research Park.

AARON REINHOLZ - Electronic Technology, NDSU Research Park: "It's a time saver, it's meant to be an efficiency improvement."

While researchers at NDSU don't directly work on the credit card applications, they have developed several other uses for RFID.

AARON: "It's really in the last 5 to 10 years that it's being adopted for other applications, like tracking goods through supply chain channels. You're seeing it more and more all the time, there are some tremendous advantages toward using it."

But with changes and advancements in RFID technology and in credit cards come new opportunities for criminals to steal your information. Thieves can purchase these electronic scanners on the internet and if they get close enough to your smartcard, which continually sends bursts of information, it could spell trouble.

DAN: "Included in that burst if your card number and your expiration date."

But, it’s not something necessarily lucrative or even easy for criminals.

DAN FISHER - The Copper River Group: "The person trying to get your information has to stand as close to you as your card does at the point of sale terminal at the retail establishment. So that means they pretty much have to take their device and almost touch you with it. Touch your purse, touch your wallet, or touch your pocket to get that information."

However, with only the card number and expiration date, Fisher says crooks won't get very far. Thanks to security measures in place by financial institutions. They don't get your name, zip code or that 3-digit code on the back of the card. So the thieves can't completely copy it.

But, some damage can be done in smaller valued transactions.

DAN: "The financial institution may have rules in place to thwart really fast activity. For example, let's say you had 10 $25 transactions in the same spot in 5 minutes. The system would pick that up and say this there's something suspicious about this activity."

One thing you can do is wrap your cards in aluminum foil. It blocks the burst of information from being transmitted from the RFID tag. It works, but it's not very convenient. Another thing you could do is put cards that have RFID tags into protective sleeves made just for smartcards. Otherwise there are things like wallets woven with steel fibers available on the internet, but Fisher has another piece of advice.

DAN: "Ultimately, the consumer needs to understand that if they're going to take advantage of this convenient technology, it does have risks and they need to spend a little more time monitoring their accounts."

Not a lot of credit cards have the RFID technology in them yet. Fisher says you have to request them from your financial institution. You can tell RFID cards apart because of a small symbol printed on them.

It's not just credit cards utilizing RFID. The technology is being added to passports. Some companies make protective sleeves for those as well.