Are Cybercriminals Performing Electronic Pickpocketing With RFID?


A new type of cybercrime could be aimed at credit-card holders, but officials say proving it is next to impossible, reports the Columbus Dispatch. What has people concerned is the addition of radio-frequency identification technology microchips to a growing number of consumer credit cards. The technology, known as RFID, is widely used in security badges and toll-pay systems. Marketed as a time-saver, the radio chips allow users to tap or wave their cards in front of scanners to pay for gas or buy a cup of coffee without having to swipe the card or hand it to a cashier. More than 100 million RFID-enabled cards are in use in the U.S.

Security expert Walt Augustinowicz said scammers can buy portable RFID readers and a battery pack for less than $100 on the Internet and then connect them to a laptop. The reader can pick up information being broadcast from the cards, such as account numbers and expiration dates, from several inches away. The thieves can move through crowded locations, lifting unsuspecting victims’ credit-card information out of their wallets and purses without having to lay a finger on them. Is it happening? The U.S. Secret Service has no open investigations of electronic pickpocketing and does not know of any. Augustinowicz said he thinks the thefts are taking place under the radar of law enforcement because it would be impossible to prove that’s how the criminals got the numbers without catching them in the act. A video of Augustinowicz demonstrating how the theft works went viral, garnering millions of hits on a television news site.

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