How do secure sleeves for credit cards work?

credit card secure sleevesA secure sleeve blocks electromagnetic energy from reaching the credit card, thereby preventing a radio frequency identification RFID reading device from getting any information from it. Smart credit cards have an RFID chip in them that makes it possible for criminals to steal the information on the card. Secure sleeves are made of materials that reflect radio waves so that the RFID chips cannot be read.

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A regular wallet does not provide enough shielding to prevent a card from being read by a remote device, but secure sleeves are not the only protective option. The same principles that apply to a secure sleeve also apply to aluminum wallets, impregnated nylon wallets, or even wallets that have a piece of tinfoil in them. According to an article in Popular Mechanics, all of these tricks and devices can block RFID scanners equally well.

How great is the danger of information being stolen from the RFID chip in my credit card?

The RFID chip in credit cards is not easily readable. It is equipped with security features, including in some cases 128-bit encryption and Triple-DES (Data Encryption Standard). That being said, credit card information has been able to be deciphered and read by modified readers in laboratory tests.

Some companies that sell credit card sleeves have done tests wherein they actually have someone use a modified reader to take information from credit cards or passports in a non-laboratory setting. While technically you put your credit card at risk from various types of fraud every time you take it out of your wallet, the RFID credit card danger is particularly disconcerting because someone could theoretically take your information from several feet away without you ever knowing about it. The good news is that it is still a more difficult way to get information than just looking over your shoulder when you use your card, and thieves often take the path of least resistance.

There is some protection also provided by the fact that the RFID chip does not contain the three-digit customer identification (CID) number. While more and more vendors, particularly online vendors, are requiring the use of this credit card CID, there are still a number who don’t, so the protection is not foolproof.

What are the consequences of someone getting my credit card information?

secure sleeve for credit cardsIf someone gets your credit card information, odds are they will start using it immediately. It can be frightening to look at a credit card bill and see thousands of dollars in unauthorized credit charges, but don’t panic. You will not be responsible for most of it.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, you are only responsible for $50 of unauthorized charges, regardless of how many fraudulent credit card charges there are. If you manage to notify the credit card issuer of unauthorized charges before they are processed, you will not even be responsible for the $50. Some homeowners’ insurance policies also include credit card protection, so you may end up paying nothing and only losing time to deal with the issue.

Debit cards are a little different from credit cards in terms of fraud, and could be more costly. If the loss of a debit card is reported within two business days, you will not be responsible for more than $50 of fraudulent charges. If you wait longer, you might be responsible for $500 or more, even up to the full balance if you do not report it for more than 60 days.

What other types of credit card scams and thefts can happen?

There are many ways a thief can get your credit card information to make fraudulent charges. They can:

  • Steal the physical card from your pocket
  • Look over your shoulder when you use the card and memorize or write down the information
  • Intercept a billing statement in the mail
  • Steal credit card data from your computer or the computer of a merchant you deal with
  • Work with an unscrupulous merchant to get a copy of your credit card information

A criminal can also get other personal information from you, like your social security number, and open new credit card accounts in your name without you knowing about it. The scary thing about this is that you usually don’t know it even happened until there are thousands of dollars in charges that are long past due and credit card collectors are tracking you down. Even though you will not be financially responsible for most of the charges, it can take weeks or even months of hard work to get the situation resolved and get your credit repaired.

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