The Newest Holiday Scam: Digital Thieves Stealing From Your Wallet

Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers

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Can you believe there is now technology that can steal your credit/debit card information from within your wallet?
“But I’m acutely aware that the possibility of fraud is even more prevalent in today’s world because of the Internet and cell phones and the opportunity for instant communication with strangers.”
Armistead Maupin

As technology advances, we are discovering innovations that are changing our lives for the better and the worse. There are now credit and debit card scanners at every shop, restaurant, and bookstore, making it easy to go cashless and rely on your cards for money. While this is an improvement for the better, it comes coupled with a myriad of security threats.

Even when you have your debit and credit cards stored safely away in your wallet or purse, you are exposed to security breaches. There are individual machines and technology that can steal your debit and credit card information without physically robbing you. The worst part is — your information could already be out there in someone’s possession, and you won’t find out until you start losing an inexplainable amount of money.

Did you know in 2018, there was a loss of $24.26 billion from payment card fraud across the globe? More frightening is that the rate of credit card-related fraud is only getting worse, with a rise of almost 19% in 2018 alone.

While fraud occurs at many levels and in different ways, identity theft is the most common kind of deception, especially in the United States. Out of the 3.2 million fraud cases in 2019, identity theft was responsible for 20.33% of it. With the rise of COVID, there have been an additional 150,000 cases of stimulus-related instances of fraud.

One of the scariest aspects of having your data stolen is that you may not realize what you did to expose your credentials. Did you use a hacked ATM, or someone picked up your data as you made a payment at a food stall on the street? Last year, 165 million personal data records were compromised to data breaches, and unauthorized access was the primary channel with which these breaches are happening.

The younger generation may be less at-risk than the older and middle-aged groups because they’re more aware of dangerous sites, possibly fraudulent individuals and organizations online, and different techniques used to scan your cards and subsequently steal your data. That’s why people aged 30–39 were the most affected by identity theft in 2019.

However, the new devices that criminals use now put everyone at risk. Even if we’re careful about our purchases and double-check the ATMs, technology is fast advancing beyond understanding a regular customer trying to make a purchase.

The scanners are smaller and more undetectable than ever — and now — people are stealing your data out of thin air. That’s where radio frequency identification comes in.

Traditionally people do not go out of their way to put themselves and their information at risk, but there are numerous ways they are at risk, regardless. Because there is now technology that can steal your debit and credit card info from deep within your wallet — and you might not realize it until it’s too late.

A new and improved method of pickpocketing

It has likely been an extended period since someone close to you was subject to a pickpocketing crime. Thieves have upgraded their methods and now use digital devices to scan your cards and steal your credentials without taking the card out of your possession.

There are now RFID and NFC devices that use wireless technology to read your cards. The criminal stands half a foot away while making a purchase or transaction at a store or a restaurant. They have readers or an RFID app on their phones that pick up the digital signals when your card is used and take out your personal information.

It is now known as “digital skimming” and uses a high radio frequency that takes bank details right out of your card and stores it within a second. The readers are powered by a battery and are undetectable in a criminal’s pocket, bag, or purse as they stand near you when you make a transaction.

If you have a card that uses RFID to make payments, you may be at risk even if you’re not actively using it. RFID can be picked up and used to extract your information by powerful devices straight out of your wallet. Advances in technology are making it challenging to protect your card.

“The newness effect of a new thing wears off in nine months to a year, but financial security can last a lifetime.”
Dan Buettner

How does digital pickpocketing work?

Your cards use RFID technology to send out banking details. When you make a transaction using an RFID reader at a shop, there are chances that anyone out to harvest your information could pick up those signals on their scanner and access all your banking information.

They then use a machine, available for around $3–400, which can generate another card identical to yours, complete with your banking information. These scanners can pick up all sorts of RFID signals, which means any of your cards could be “skimmed” when you use them in public.

Criminals who use scanners with distinctive antennae can pick up the RFID signals from your cards even when you aren’t using them. If you’re in a crowded place with your card in your wallet, a professional thief with a powerful antenna pulls out your information from a distance as well.

What can we do to prevent digital pickpocketing?

New businesses have started using RFID payments that require a one-time passcode that expires after a few seconds. If someone were to get their hands on your banking details, they would not be able to access the code sent to your phone and email, allowing an extra layer of protection when making payments rather than only requiring your banking information to process transactions.

Another strategy is to keep your card protected from RFID scanners that could be picking up its signals wherever you go. People have started wrapping their cards in tinfoil, which supposedly blocks out the waves and prevents data breaches — unless a thief were to use high-end technology that could pass through the foil.

Some brands have started creating specialized clutches and wallets that have a layer of material that blocks transmission. Although it isn’t guaranteed to prevent all attempts of hacking and harvesting your data, it’s better than leaving your card unprotected in a wallet that doesn’t have the preventative lining.

Newer card readers also can wave the card over the reader without taking it out of your wallet. It keeps the card protected from any other source picking up the signal while allowing you to carry out the transaction safely.

Keep a lookout for potential channels for security breaches

It’s impossible to be 100% certain that people in your store or near your outlet aren’t engaging in fraudulent activity. However, customers feel wary of doing business in places where they can’t be sure of the security measures that are in place. Many small stores have ATMs, but they should keep a lookout and make sure there aren’t any hidden skimmers inside the slot.

These skimmers can send out the information via wireless connections, which means if a criminal planted a skimmer at an ATM, they aren’t likely to make a return visit. The only way to stay safe from these security threats is to inspect the ATMs and make sure it isn’t placed in a sparsely trafficked area where someone could have easily installed a skimmer.

Final words

Last year had the highest rate of fraud in history. With the pandemic and global unemployment on the rise, criminals looking for ways to take advantage of people will discover newer and smarter ways to access personal information.

Credit card fraud is the most massive identity fraud making up almost 42% of identity theft crimes. It isn’t surprising that most people who suffer from identity theft are also the highest credit card users and have several different cards. It makes it harder for them to keep a watchful eye on all their accounts and monitor their payments for anything suspicious.

However, if you’re up to date about your transactions, keep a close eye on emails, messages, or alerts about unusual activity; you should investigate as soon as possible so you can block your card or file a complaint before any significant losses.

“Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is keep it to a minimum. No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.”
Alan Greenspan

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I am a Licensed Community Association Manager for the State of Florida and a published author. My top articles are about Florida RE, property management, and the many beautiful venues and activities available in the Sunshine State. Thank you for reading my work and joining me on the journey.

Kissimmee, FL
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