Electronic pickpockets target credit cards, cell phone data - WNCN: News, Weather

Electronic pickpockets target credit cards, smartphone data

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A new kind of thief walking the streets has the ability to steal personal information without ever laying a finger on someone.

WNCN Investigates found thieves can now use readily available, inexpensive components to electronically pick a pocket by just walking near their victim. 

The technology lifts credit card information from a wallet or data from a smartphone in a pocket.

Thieves are targeting the new generation of credit cards, known as contactless cards, which are touted as more convenient way to make a purchase.

Contactless cards are known by various trademarks including "Paywave," "Tap and Go" and "Pay Pass."

The cards use radio frequency technology, which consists of a radio frequency (RFID) chip embedded in the card. The RFID chip allows the card to be read by a special receiver from a small distance. These receivers are usually placed at the point of purchase in a retail outlet.

WNCN Investigates took security consultant Walt Augustinowicz of Identity Stronghold to a local shopping center to demonstrate electronic pickpocketing.

At the shopping center, Ryan Bertolina gave permission to Augustinowicz to steal his information.

Augustinowicz stood near Bertolina holding what would appear to be a laptop or tablet case in his hand. A moment later, Augustinowicz had all the credit card information he needed.

"If someone basically passes this over you, this is your entire credit card number," Augustinowicz told Bertolina.

"I think that's not good," said Bertolina. He was unaware he even possessed a RFID credit card.

Augustinowicz did exactly what thieves do to lift your credit card information.

He went online and purchased a standard radio frequency card reader that retail outlets use at registers.

"We just hooked it (the card reader) to a battery," Augustinowicz said. "Anyone can buy this stuff."

Augustinowicz has been pointing out the vulnerabilities of various RFID systems for over a decade.

After he showed Maria Bundros how card number information could be picked out of thin air, she was stunned.

"Our world sure is changing and we have to be extra careful," Bundros said.

And it's not just credit cards using RFID technology that can be a problem.

The new generation of Android smartphones use "near-field communication." This technology can also be used to steal personal information. Apple iPhones do not use near-field communication technology yet.

Some downloadable apps have a more devious purpose embedded inside that use near-field communication to help others obtain credit card information.

"A guy can put a piece of Trojan horse software inside an app," said Augustinowicz. "You download the app and now your phone is always looking for credit cards or building access cards and can email them anywhere in the world."

But there are safe guards against such apps.

Before you install an app, fully read the permission screen to see if it uses near-field communication. Most apps don't need that kind of electronic access.

"If you knew that ahead of time, and you downloaded a game and it said it uses near-field communication, you would not want to install that app," said Augustinowicz.

When WNCN showed shopper Karim Fahmy how electronic pickpocketing worked on smartphones and credit cards, he was shocked.

"I don't want to get rid of my freedom in technology, but at the same time I don't want to get rid of my money. So, if I have to give up one of them, I'd give up the credit cards," Fahmy said.

Taking precautions can work over simply abandoning new credit card technology.

Specially-lined wallets are made to protect your credit card information. Inexpensive credit card sleeves are available to protect your information, too.

"It's like aluminum foil but it's a lot handier than wrapping foil around your card," said Augustinowicz.

Information in your wallet or purse can not be stolen electronically once your card is secure using lined protectors.

"You want to make sure these credit or access cards are shielded so that this phone, even if it's left near them, can't have access to it," said Augustinowicz.

RFID technology is not going away, in fact, it is going to become more prevalent in the coming years.

That means, it's up to us to make sure we take steps to protect ourselves to reduce our vulnerability to electronic thievery.


The following companies offer devices at various prices that can protect your information from RFID thieves:


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