RFID technology, or radio frequency identification, has been around for a long time. Along with the convenience, however, comes the risk of having the information contained on RFID-equipped items being stolen in a new brand of electronic pickpocketing known as RFID skimming.

The technology has made its way into a variety of items, including credit cards, driver's licenses and passports. These items, which are mostly found in the wallets of people, use embedded RFID chips to transmit information wirelessly to compatible readers to perform functions such as confirming the person's identity or paying for a purchase.

RFID uses radio waves to read information stored on tags attached to certain objects, and can be scanned from several feet away, without the need for a direct line-of-sight to the reader.

The Threat Of RFID Skimming

Individuals who have RFID readers can possibly activate the RFID chips embedded in personal items, which would allow them to extract sensitive information without the owner of the items even knowing that they were victimized.

Over the years, hackers have demonstrated methods of using handheld RFID readers to acquire information from several feet away. Information that can be extracted this way include the name and country of origin listed in a passport, and more alarmingly, complete credit card numbers.

The Need For RFID-Blocking Wallets

One of the more popular ways for consumers to protect themselves from RFID skimming is through the use of RFID-blocking wallets, which has spurred a whole new industry. Before, the most important decision to be made on purchasing a wallet is choosing its color and material; now, one of the top criteria for purchasing wallets is that they should have RFID-blocking capabilities.

This new kind of wallet protects consumers from RFID skimming by creating a shield around their RFID-equipped items. This shield repels the electromagnetic energy sent out by RFID readers that the items need to be able to send out the information they contain.

RFID-Blocking Wallet Options

A quick search on Amazon for RFID wallets brings up an expansive list, with prices ranging from below $10 to more than $100.

A list compiled by Comparaboo on the 10 best options for RFID wallets based on Amazon scores and reviews reveals brands such as Access Denied, Leopardd, Travelon, Buxton and Rogue Wallet have received good scores from customers. There are also up and coming brands such as Protectif that offer similar, if not better protection.

Alternatives For Worried People

For consumers who are worried by RFID skimming, but do not want to replace their wallet for any reason, there are some alternatives in protecting your RFID-equipped items.

One such option is the Armourcard, which is a battery-powered device with the size of a thicker credit card that can be slipped into wallets or bags. When a person comes in contact with an RFID reader, the Armourcard jams scanning attempts made by the reader. The product has been launched in Australia and is making its way into the United States through online stores.

Other options for protecting against RFID skimming include placing the items inside an Altoids tin or wrapping the items in aluminum foil, both of which might not look stylish, but they get the job done.

Protection Or Paranoia?

Despite the growth of the RFID-blocking wallet industry, one question remains. Is such a type of wallet actually needed to protect consumers from having their information compromised? Or is the industry just a product of technological paranoia?

The companies behind the growth of this new multi-million industry, of course, will insist that the risks of RFID skimming are real. However, there are some experts in the field who are not convinced.

InfoWorld's Roger Grimes goes as far as saying that the issue is a fallacy, pointing to the fact that the majority of credit cards do not even have an actual RFID transmitter, despite most being marketed as capable of being used wirelessly.

In addition, Grimes pointed out that a criminal would not be sitting in a corner with an RFID reader in hand to possibly grab information from a credit card or two. Instead, the criminal would be breaking into websites to steal information from thousands of users at once, which would be a better use of his effort and time.

So Are You Buying A New Wallet?

While there are skepticisms about the rise of RFID skimming, many consumers are still leaning towards the side of caution. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.

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