RFID blocking wallets: All you need to know

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November 18, 2016
Ariela Moraru

A picture of an RFID wallet holding a bunch of credit cards

A breakdown of the RFID wallet dilemma. We go through what the actual risks are, if they work or not, and if RFID blocking wallets are needed for travelers.

In a fast-paced environment, radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) makes our world move even faster. It works with compatible readers which can identify information contained on certain devices such as passports, credit cards or driver’s licences remotely (wireless) in a matter of seconds. All it takes is a wave. Users can easily make a purchase or confirm their identity from a few feet away. This is great, but raises security concerns: the problem with this is that the information can be read easily and stolen through RFID skimming. Since most of these RFID devices are kept in a wallet, we are dealing with pick pocketing taken to another level: an electronic level. A new industry of RFID-blocking products has emerged to protect alarmed users against the apparent increased risk of identity and card information theft.

What are RFID-blocking wallets and why are they popular?

Product marketing and government campaigns have made us all more aware of the risk of having our information stolen and how easily it is for a handheld device to read all your information without your consent. RFID-blocking wallets protect the sensitive information on the chips in your RFID-embedded devices from hackers who can read it from feet away. Australia is country where this was a growing issue just a couple of years ago. Your devices such as passports and credit cards become electromagnetically opaque.

This is great, especially if you’re a frequent traveler with little control over your environment. If you lead a busy life, why risk it? We all know how time-consuming and what a waste of time it is to navigate the customer service system to get in touch with an operator to sort out our problem.

How much is piece of mind worth for you? Keep in mind the risk of RFID theft is very low. New gadget fans can purchase RFID-blocking wallets for just $10 to over $100, but do not expect the most stylish design, highest quality of materials like leather, or the most effective wallet if you go for the lower threshold.

If you are too fond of your wallet and don’t want to replace it, there are options to buy a battery-powered device slightly thicker than a card that can be slipped into your wallet.

Why you may not need one

When looking for the best travel wallet in general, you look for attributes like comfort, utility etc. Must you consider the security aspect as well nowadays? First of all, the incidence of RFID skimming is negligible and secondly, most credit companies protect the cardholder against fraudulent purchase, so you will not lose any money if your information is stolen. What you will waste is time to correct the problem.

We are constantly warned about the risk of having our information stolen, but very few cases of RFID skimming have been reported, so it is not such a wide-spread phenomenon as RFID-blocking product manufacturers might want us to think. Back in the late 2000s when RFID was more common there were alarming statistics of an increase of 30% in credit and debit card theft in the US according to the justice department. The US Department of Justice suggested there might have been a link between the two, but it’s not confirmed that the card holders were victims of electronic pick pocketing.

The marketing of RFID wallets had been quite outlandish back in the day to the point where it was suggested that thieves are walking around with a rather pricey RFID reader looking for their next victim one at a time. Theft through online hacking and things like that are more common.

Most cards are not even equipped with an RFID transmitter these days. Most cards now come with a much more secure EMV chip. Full data encryption ensures protection of most wireless payment systems these days.

Moreover, EMV technology has proven to be more innovative and a secure technologies. The latest trend is to use your smartphone to make purchases. Apple Pay is way more secure than RFID devices. A more secure technology combines EMV chips that do not send a radio frequency signal with PIN identification. An RFID-blocking wallet will not be of much use in these circumstances.

If you are trying to save money, a cheap option levying almost the same result is using a can of Altoids mints or aluminium foil. I guess not as classy, but supposedly it does the trick.

The bottom line: lifestyle and caution

Your decision of purchasing one of not, will depend mainly on your lifestyle, financial situation and existing card. If you are a frequent traveler or go to unsafe locations, it’s better to be safe than sorry and purchase one. These type of card shield in Wallet do protect against a low risk of RFID theft.

More so if you move around a lot, don’t spend too much time in one place and have limited free time to report credit card issues on the go. If purchasing a wallet is not a big financial effort for you, it shouldn’t matter too much that you are investing in a technology that is slowly being replaced by more advanced and more secure alternatives. You are buying peace of mind.

Having said that, don’t buy something you don’t need, so check if your card transmits radio signals in the first place. Whether you choose to buy an RFID-blocking wallet or not, you will still need to exert caution: keep your belongings safe and have a splendid holiday.

You can also check out our guide for some of the best travel purses for women here: https://landofthetraveler.com/11-best-travel-purses-reviewed/

Safe travels everyone!

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