Imagine going to the grocery store and swiping your debit or credit card as you always do, only to have it decline embarrassingly. Shocked, you try again or try another card only to be met with another decline. Unaware of what's going on, you reach for your emergency cash to pay for your purchase and sheepishly leave the store. When you get home, you check your bank account or credit card statement online. Much to your surprise, you find some unexpected charges you did not make or authorize. By now a cold chill is likely running down your spine as you frantically place a call to your financial institution to find out what is happening.
Photo: AZ Tech Beat
The scenario above is one that is becoming alarmingly frequent. If it hasn't happened to you yet, count your lucky stars, but please know that such an experience is possible and can strike at any time. Thanks to the criminal element and their dedication, credit card numbers and other personal information (including passport information) are being easily stolen and reproduced. Once these numbers and information are secure, thieves have themselves a field day spending/stealing your money. Usually it starts with a small charge to ensure their work has been done accurately, but soon after the charges will surge until they are met with insufficient funds and declined transactions, which will hopefully happen before they put a brand new BMW on your AMEX.
You may feel safe if your card is still in your possession, but the truth is that your information can be stolen right out from under you without anyone ever touching or seeing your card. Thanks to devices known as skimmers and the act of RFID theft, ripping off someone's hard earned dollars is now a piece of cake and will leave you poor as a pauper. Here's how they work:
Skimmers are devices that are placed in locations where you would ordinarily swipe a card without a lot of observation. These places include gas pumps, Redbox movie kiosks, ATMs, and the like. Thieves place devices on the card slot that captures your information as you swipe your card. Also present may be a camera or keypad overlay to snag any pin numbers you may enter. These devices are battery operated and usually last only a couple of hours but in high traffic areas, that is plenty of time to capture a significant number of personal information for a thief to have a spending spree on you.
Photo: Krebs on Security
RFID readers are essentially able to grab financial information literally out of thin air. RFID theft occurs when someone buys the type of scanner you would usually use to checkout when making a purchase at a store and utilizes it to snag your money. These scanners can be bought by anyone and all it takes is for you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time within reach of one of these devices in order for you to become a victim.
In a day and age where money is hard enough to come by and planning for long term survival can be pricey, the last thing we need is people stealing what hard earned money we do have. That is why it is now more important than ever to protect yourself. Here are some tips for doing so:
1. Watch your account balances and statements. If you see any unauthorized charges, call your financial institution immediately. It is possible they may pick up on these charges and nip it in the bud, but they also may not. From personal experience I will tell you one account caught it after $5.00. Another account caught it after $500.00 in charges in three states at the opposite end of the country from where I live. The lesson here is to stay on top of your own money at all times.
2. When pumping gas, always pump close to the store as those pumps are less likely to be affixed with skimmers. Even better, pay inside or pay cash. Use ATMs under heavy camera cover or go inside the bank for withdrawals. Also take notice of any part of the card slot that appears mismatched or loose as that could be a skimmer.
3. Invest in an RFID blocking wallet. These can be purchased inexpensively and are able to block thieves from accessing your card information. They also come in many styles to suit any taste.
Photo: Yanko Design
Though your financial institution should work with you to protect against theft such as this and to make you whole again if you are affected, avoiding it in the first place is best whenever possible. If you find that one account has been compromised, you might want to go ahead and cancel all of the credit cards you normally carry as they, too, may have been compromised. With a little luck, if something like this does happen to you, it will amount to nothing more than a huge inconvenience, but that in itself is more than any honest, hard-working individual should experience. However, with the constant improvement of technology and determination of thieves, we are unfortunately going to remain at risk unless we take strides to protect ourselves, ensuring the survival of our hard earned money at the same time.
Have you ever been impacted by wireless theft by RFID or skimmer? What was your recovery process like? Let us know in the comments.