SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Identity theft is a threat everyone faces, and that threat rises with the wave of new technology. It turns out your personal information can now be stolen without your even knowing. It's called electronic pickpocketing, and ABC 4 took action to show how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Just about everyone with a bank account has a credit or debit card and if that card has a particular symbol on it, the card has radio frequency identification, or RFID. The technology makes transactions faster and is supposed to protect your security by reducing the paper trail, but a crook can put together a device that can steal your personal information.
This type of credit card makes consumers more prone to identity theft.
Bill Niedermeyer works for Kemesa, an electronic protection company in Salt Lake City. He's an expert in radio frequency identification technology and agreed to help ABC 4 to take action to see just how dangerous it can be if used by the wrong person.
The crime can happen at a point of sale, utilizing an electronic system that consumers use instead of a cash register.
ABC 4 used an RFID hidden in a disguised hand bag. The scanner and bag cost less than $250.
ABC 4 found people with RFID cards and asked them for permission to put the device to the test.
ABC 4 positioned the scanner just a couple feet away or closer to see if their personal information could be stolen.
Time after time, the scanner worked, and the card owners were shocked to see that their information was easily taken, including numbers and expiration dates.
Many of the subjects in ABC 4’s test had no idea the RFID codes and scanners existed.
“It makes you not want to carry that credit card,” said one subject.
“It makes you feel like a victim,” said another.
Niedermeyer says RFID technology isn't anything new.
“Radio frequency identification has been around a very long time.Making it affordable is kind of the downfall of this,” said Niedermeyer. “It became so affordable the credit card companies are saying, ‘well, lets put it in all the cards.”
Niedermeyer says small technological advances can cause big problems.
"You build the wall and the criminals build their ladders even higher and you try to make something that works and when it backfires like this is starting to backfire, it would be such a big issue except now we're moving to smart phones and the developers of smart phones know that code and know that technology”
So how do card owners protect themselves from RFID theft?
Quick fixes include leaving those cards at home, wrapping them in tin foil before putting them in your wallet, using a credit card shield, or a special wallet that blocks RFID transmissions.
Kemesa offers a program called "Shop-Shield" that protect against this type of fraud as well.
Kemesa CEO Mike Keough says, "We are acquiring, issuing and processing virtual Visa debit cards with masked identities and that keeps you from ever exposing yourself to the people out there who are trying to steal your information.”
Even with these precautions, Niedermeyer says that perhaps the best protection from becoming a victim is self-awareness.
“If somebody is around, they're walking around people, you're in a coffee shop and you can see they're holding something like that, be aware that this technology can actually take the card,” said Niedermeyer.
Kemesa experts say tens of thousands of credit cards are misused every day nationwide, and a lot of that comes from stolen information from RFID cards.
For more information on RFID and Kemesa click here