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RFID: To Block, or Not To Block

Think you need RFID blocking? Think again.

It's easier than ever to fall victim to identity theft, it seems. Hacking is an ever-advancing art, and it's hard to believe that a thief can electronically gather your information from several feet away. Since it is technically possible, there are foil-lined pouches and lined wallets that block RFID-scanning from individual credit and debit cards. 

While wrapping your cards in metal may be effective in blocking fraud, the question is: Are these little credit-card "foil hats" truly necessary? 

Distil Union says NO to RFID blocking

In short: No. RFID-blocking is snake oil, preying on fear to sell you something under a false sense of security. After careful research, we agree with Washington's Top News to "spend your cash elsewhere." Here are the facts: 

1.) Your card isn't RFID, most likely.

That chip on your card is not RFID. In fact, it is EMV, designed to provide improved protection – so next time you're annoyed at your slow chip card, take those additional seconds to take a breath and show some gratitude for stepped-up security.

If your cards doesn't have the words PayPass or PayWave or an icon that looks like a wifi signal, don't buy into the skimming fear. In the name of simplicity: Why pay more for a feature that adds bulk (not protection)? 

Image via this post (with a How To on removing RFID from your card if you do have it and would like to manually opt out).

2.) You're already protected.

Worst-case scenario: RFID sends only a one-time code for each transaction made, keeping unencrypted card numbers from transmitting anywhere. This limits any thief to only one potential stolen transaction. 

The great news is: Major credit card companies do not hold customers accountable for fraudulent payments made due to fraud. So at most, a foil RFID-blocker would prevent one transaction that you're already protected from.

3.) There are better ways to protect yourself against actual fraud.

The real threat to credit-card hacking is in the form of ATM skimmers. Thieves place readers into any ATM or point-of-sale device where cards are read – a much more efficient way to gather thorough data in large quantities. 

Unfortunately, a foil sleeve or lined wallet can't protect you from the most popular form of theft. The good news is the U.S. is finally adopting the Euro-style chip and pin pairing called EMV cards (shown above). They've been using this across the pond for nearly a decade as an effective redesign for minimizing fraud. 

"...RFID-based contactless payment systems have recently fallen out of favor among U.S. credit card companies. They’re focusing instead on implementing a European-style chip-and-PIN system known as EMV, which uses different technology and is less vulnerable to remote skimming. (EMV cards may come with their own security risks, but again, an RFID-blocking wallet won’t help you with those.)" –

While the ubiquitous ATM-skimmers are an increasing problem that makes nearly everyone vulnerable to theft, there are a few precautions one can take to avoid becoming a victim: 

  1. Try to make withdrawals or transactions only at ATMs in a bank lobby, or even better – directly from a bank teller.

  2. Look closely at the card reader on an ATM and find a different one if it appears loose or noticeably different than before. 

  3. Along with the skimming device itself, thieves will also plant a tiny camera nearby to pick up your pin number. Always use one hand to cover the hand that's typing in your pin.

And perhaps the best part: all of these fraud-prevention practices are free!

So, what's the final verdict on RFID-blocking cards and foil sleeves? 

"If you’re bent on traveling incognito—perhaps you’re a spy, or an international person of mystery—an RFID-blocking wallet or sleeve might be a prudent precaution. Otherwise, odds are you’ll be just fine without one." – 

BONUS! There's actually a real benefit to not blocking your cards.

Many people carry cards (subway, work key-cards, etc) that can be read wirelessly through your wallet. By not using RFID-blocking, you can enjoy tap-and-go convenience without having to remove these common cards from your wallet. And so for convenience and to keep our wallets slim, we'll skip it – but will probably grab a sleeve for our passports just in case we decide to become spies...


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