You’ve seen the commercials. You’ve heard the ads. RFID blocking technology promises to keep your credit cards and passports safe from skimmers and scammers. Given the recent statistics about financial identity theft, you’re probably asking yourself a couple of questions: Do RFID blockers really do what they claim? And if they do, should you start using them? Those are fair questions, but the second is more important than the first.
Do RFID blockers work? Most likely. Do you need them? Probably not.
What is RFID technology?
The RFID system consists of a tag containing a small integrated circuit and a receiving antenna/reader. The tag contains a unique ID and other information. The reader contains a sensor that recognizes nearby tags and an antenna that sends radio frequencies to the RFID tags. When the tags send their specific details back to the reader, the reader stores the information and completes the intended function. RFID technology has been around since 1983. Originally created to help companies streamline inventory tracking and logistics, Radio Frequency Identification has become a popular way for credit card companies to provide contactless payment solutions.
How do RFID cards work?
RFID-enabled credit cards contain a chip with a small RFID tag inside. This chip transmits its unique ID and financial information whenever it receives a signal from the RFID reader in contactless payment machines. This simple communication speeds up transactions and reduces the security risk associated with magnetic credit card readers that require you to swipe a physical card. The innovation and convenience (not to mention the “cool” factor) of this payment method resulted in widespread adoption.
As the use of RFID-enabled cards increases, so do stories of criminals using specialized scanners to steal personal and financial information. Validated or not, these reports have stoked consumer fears and created a booming market for RFID blocking security products.
Should you buy RFID blockers?
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to spend your hard-earned money on RFID blocking technology, it helps to reframe the question. Instead of asking whether they protect you, it makes more sense to ask what they’re protecting you from. According to KnowB4 data security expert Roger Grimes , they’re not protecting you from anything.
“The problem isn't that these products don't work, it's that they're a solution to a problem that doesn't exist in the real world,” said Grimes. “RFID-related crime isn't only very unlikely, it's non-existent.”
Grimes isn’t alone in this assessment. A growing chorus of industry experts agrees that RFID skimming is an incredibly inefficient practice, due primarily to data encryption and the sheer amount of work that would be required to match the information lifted from RFID scans to associated security codes. It’s far more likely that scammers would try to access credit card information that’s been stolen and stored on the Dark Web.
When it comes to protecting your financial identity, RFID blocking products may not be as essential as the marketing campaigns and online videos would lead you to believe. Sure, they make RFID skimming virtually impossible, but verifiable crime statistics indicate that skimming isn’t nearly the problem the marketers would have you believe. When it comes to RFID blocking wallets, purses, pants, and fanny packs, there’s really no downside to using them. That being said, the upside is minimal — and hardly worth the expense.
Whether or not you decide RFID blocking products are for you or not, you can count on our Spero team to help you safeguard your finances. If you would like to discuss your personal financial security with one of our experts or learn more about the solutions we offer, we're here to help!
This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.