RFID-blocking wallets are supposed to prevent your RFID card information from being stolen. But do they really work? Even then, is the danger real enough to make a purchase worth it? Let’s find out.
What Is RFID Blocking?
The use of RFID technology is becoming increasingly commonplace in our everyday lives. This technology uses the energy from an electromagnetic field to power a small chip that sends information out in response. For example, the RFID chip in your credit card contains information needed to authorize transactions, and the RFID chip in an access card has a code that opens doors or restricted systems. RFID technology offers many benefits and is sure to continue playing a major role in our lives in the years to come.
Some materials, like metals that conduct electricity, can block electromagnetic waves. This is why RFID-blocking wallets have card sleeves or sometimes whole wallets made out of materials that don't allow radio waves to pass through them.
That way, the chip won’t power up, and even if it did, its signal wouldn’t get through the wallet. The bottom line is that you can’t read the RFID card through the wallet.
Why Would You Want to Block Your Cards?
RFID tags are devices that emit radio signals that can be read by special scanners. They are often used to track inventory or packages, as the information they contain is not usually sensitive. However, because RFID tags can be read from a distance, there have been concerns about their security.
Concerns about RFID cards have been raised as more NFC-reading devices make it into the hands of the general population. NFC (Near-Field Communication) is a very similar technology to RFID, with a key difference being range. NFC chips can only be read ranges measured in inches. NFC is essentially a special type of RFID.
This is how “tap-and-pay” cards work with payment terminals equipped with NFC readers. If you have a smartphone capable of making contactless payments, it can be used to read NFC cards as well. So what’s to stop someone from using their phone to copy your NFC card?
That’s exactly the situation RFID blocking wallets are supposed to prevent. The idea is that someone could simply bring their NFC reader close to your wallet and then copy your cards. They could then have the device reproduce the RFID information to make payments.
Are RFID Protection Wallets Worth It?
The idea behind RFID blocking cards is definitely sound. After all, a 2012 demonstration of how an Android phone could wirelessly steal credit card information left no one in doubt about the potential danger. However, it doesn't seem like these sorts of attacks are actually happening very often in the real world.
NFC skimming is a potential threat to anyone who carries valuable information on their credit cards. However, the risks involved in trying to steal credit card information from strangers in public places make this type of crime not worth the effort. There are many other ways to obtain credit card information that are much less risky and more effective, such as through malware or phishing attacks.
As a cardholder, you’re also protected against card fraud by your card issuer, and none of them require the use of RFID blocking wallets to qualify as far as we are aware. So at most you may save yourself from a minor inconvenience as stolen funds are replaced.