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RFID Credit Card Protection

Securing Your Personal Information on RFID Chips

There is a lot of confusion and fear among consumers when it comes to protecting their personal information on credit cards containing computer chips and US passports with RFID chips buried inside. Also some states  issue so called enhanced driver’s licenses with RFID chips. Here's a simple explanation of this technology and how you can guard against data theft.


Credit Cards with Chips

As a means to combat counterfeiting of credit cards, credit card companies have adopted the EMV chip technology for most if not all cards produced since 2015. You can recognize the EMV chip as the gold metallic rectangle on your credit card that looks like this:

The EMV chip is a microprocessor, but it does not use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to communicate with a reader. The EMV credit card must be inserted into a reader to be scanned. The surreptitious scanning that has gotten a lot of media attention involves RFID chips which some credit cards use. The RFID chip is recognized on cards with this symbol: The presence of an RFID chip allows contactless transmission of data, so you simply have to be in close proximity but not physically touching a reader, similar to the way Apple Pay and Google Pay work from your phone. An RFID chip can be scanned by data thieves. You can protect these cards with an RFID blocking wallet, backpack or handbag. RFID blocking fabric contains metallic fibers which scatter the radio waves. There are several manufacturers that incorporate this fabric on interior bag pockets, often called out by the symbol.


US Passports

US passports contain an RFID chip in the cover that contains all the data printed on the information page. However, US passports provide several levels of security. First and foremost, successful scanning requires that the scanner read the printed lines of data in the machine readable zone on the information page in order to access the data on the chip. In addition, the passport cover contains RFID blocking material so it has to be open to be scanned successfully. If you’re still anxious about guarding your passport data, RFID blocking wallets, handbags, and backpacks provide an additional level of protection.


Enhanced Driver’s Licenses

What some consider the most serious risk to individual privacy is the enhanced driver’s license that some states issue which, among other features, makes for quicker access to your biographic data by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents when driving through US border checkpoints. As you physically approach a checkpoint, CBP scanners can detect your individual identification number on your driver’s license chip and retrieve your personal information from a government database. No personal information is stored on the RFID chip - only a unique number to access data stored elsewhere. Even if someone surreptitiously scanned your chip the information is meaningless. The bigger concern is the potential for authorities to track your movements at other locations around the country by installing and activating scanners. Civil liberties groups have challenged the necessity of tracking citizens this way, and raised the specter of government abuse. At this time California does not issue enhanced driver’s licenses. If this makes you a little anxious, tucking your license in an RFID blocking wallet or handbag will prevent scanning.