Protecting your identity against credit card hackers

By: Brian Shlonsky Email
By: Brian Shlonsky Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO)-- Technology is ever evolving, bringing some new gadget or technique promising to make our lives easier. But with every new idea comes new danger, and in this case, it's your bank account that could be at risk, as thieves and hackers target a technology inside millions of credit cards.

It's called RFID, or radio frequency identity, a technology that uses a small chip that allows you to pay by simply waving the card over a reader, without swiping or ever taking the card out of your wallet.

From entering secure buildings, paying tolls, buying your groceries and even now embedded in your passport, RFID is everywhere.

The problem is, hackers have found out cheap ways to make their own readers, making stealing your personal information a lot easier than you might think.

"Is this hard to do, to capture the information and for somebody to hack you? It'd be pretty easy,” said Orbs Computers founder Don Reed, who has been fixing computers for over 30 years. “I could do it, and I wouldn't say I'm a genius at all."

Over the years, Reed has seen a fair share of scams. But Reed and other experts say that thieves hacking in and getting personal information using RFID, is pretty simple for the bad guys.

"It's actually probably one of the easiest ways people could steal information from your card,” Identity Stronghold founder and CEO Walt Augustinowitz said. “Someone can actually walk by you and skim all your information without ever even touching you."

Here's how it works--- if you have a small WIFI symbol on your credit card, it means the card contains an RFID chip, and simply waving it over a reader at the checkout will allow you to pay for items quickly.

"The credit cards with RFID chips, the estimates are at least 200 million in circulation," Augustinowitz said.

Established businesses and large retailers with RFID readers is one thing, because consumers know when they wave the card, exactly what charge they're making.

But how easily could a hacker build one?

"Anybody could build a reader, you just Google it, and it tells you how to do it, if you have any capability playing with electronics you could probably put one together," Reed said.

So we Google’d it, and sure enough, thousands of YouTube videos explaining just how to make a reader, popped right up.

"What they do, if you hook up any device that acts like a keyboard, especially any type of scanner device, usually if you go into a DOS mode, where you have that black screen with the white letters that people just hate to see, that's where that information is shot up on that black screen," Reed said.

Information, like your credit card number, is easily accessible, because hackers don't even need difficult computer programs to do it, and can scan your cards as you walk down the street, without you even knowing it.

"For someone who wanted to go through a crowd and skim someone's credit cards, we just put it in a case that looks like any old tablet case," Augustinowitz said, who made his own homemade reader to show customers how easy it really is. “Stores install these readers all the time and all we did was hook it up to a battery and a little Bluetooth transmitter so we could send it to a cell phone."
We had Augustinowitz demonstrate just how his reader can capture your credit card info.

"I'm going to wave my card near the reader, and it's as simple as that, it reads this (credit card number, name, expiration date) right through a wallet or a purse,” he said. “Somebody passing you on the street could easily get to that standing in a line behind you."

With your card information, your cash is theirs.

"You're getting the full 16 digit account number, you're getting the expiration date, and there's just thousands of places out there, with that information alone, you can make a purchase," Augustinowitz said

So how can you protect yourself from these RFID thieves?

Augustinowitz and his company, Identity Stronghold, have created a small, protective sleeve to put over any credit card or passport, making it impossible for a reader to find the information on the chip.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office says it's your responsibility as a consumer to keep your identity safe, also recommending that you use one card for internet purchases and another for everyday expenses. That way, if fraudulent charges are made on your card, you have a better chance of knowing where they came from.

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  • by Tom Location: Grand Junction on May 16, 2012 at 09:05 AM
    The last time my credit card came up for renewal, they sent me a card with an RFID chip. I complained and they sent me a replacement at no charge without the chip, and without any argument.
    • reply
      by SAM on May 16, 2012 at 12:31 PM in reply to Tom
      Good to know. Thank You.
  • by SAM Location: Grand Junction on May 16, 2012 at 06:23 AM
    Sometimes technology advances create more problems than they solve. Wouldn't it be easier to just stop putting the WIFI chip in credit cards?
  • by DG on May 16, 2012 at 01:45 AM
    A link on how to protect yourself from RFID scanning thieves...
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