Do you avoid online shopping to avoid identity theft? Do you feel safer shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores than you do online?

Even if you have never shopped online, used email or browsed the Internet at a public computer, you may still be at risk for identity or credit card theft. Those chip-enabled credit cards in your wallet are indeed convenient, but they could be putting you at risk when you simply leave your front door.

What Is RFID?

Radio-Frequency Identity (RFID) is the technology some thieves are using to collect your credit card information, link it to another card and perform transactions.

 
 

It also has a lot of legitimate purposes, like luggage tracking, pet locater chips and other uses. It’s the chip-tap function that so many point-of-sale terminals are now using.

Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to use RFID to steal credit card data without any personal contact. That means the innocent looking stranger next to you in a store, on the bus or just passing you on the street may be scanning you and storing your credit card number for their own personal gain.

That’s right, you don’t feel a thing. It’s like being electronically pick-pocketed without any contact. The cash and credit cards stay in your possession but your money is disappearing. Maybe online shopping or cash is safer after all.

Is This a Legitimate Concern?

I was wallet-shopping recently and the sales person told me that the merchandise I was checking out had something called RFID blocking. I couldn’t tell just by looking at the wallets, and they certainly didn’t feel any different. That’s when my scepticism began.

The store also sold small card-sized sleeves to store credit cards in addition to wallets. Again, these small sleeves just felt like leather or vinyl and they were bendable. There was no sturdy layer and the prices didn’t seem outrageous. However, I was told I needed one.

I asked the sales person to demonstrate the situation at her cash register since she had a credit card reader, but she wasn’t able to.

She told me that all wallets were now manufactured with RFID blocking protection so everyone should upgrade their wallets. I felt like she was selling bogus protection against a fictional threat.

Who’s the Thief?

Maybe the threat is indeed real with RFID scanning, because for every new technology advancement, there is someone looking for easy money. However, it felt like the vendor was perhaps the one looking to make fast cash.

In any case, each and every wallet I looked at had scanning protection, so I ended up buying one. I have yet to hear about anyone I know being victimized this way, and credit card companies haven’t communicated any burning need to avoid this new crime.

Don’t Leave Yourself Vulnerable to Any Kind of Theft

Whether it’s a legitimate threat or not, if I’m standing in line at a store, or am in other situation, and a stranger – innocent looking or not – stands within my personal space for too long, I’m aware of their presence. Especially if they are fidgeting with some device in their pocket.

Would I approach and question them? No way. I would probably hold my purse a little tighter and make sure it’s closed as I’ve got a bad habit of leaving it unzipped.

When I’m shopping online, I use complex passwords, log out of sites when I’m done and of course read through my statements making sure there aren’t any purchases I didn’t make.

To sum it up, there are thieves everywhere. Online, in the stores and just walking past you on the street. Those plastic bits of convenience allowing you to avoid cash leave you vulnerable whether you’re online or in a boutique.

As we approach the holiday shopping season, be aware and try to stay one step ahead of them. And in case you need any gift ideas, maybe get that special someone a new wallet!

Do you worry about online theft? What steps do you take to protect yourself? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

Jennifer SternJennifer Stern is a self-described “writer in geek’s clothing.” Drawing upon years of communications experience in the tech industry, she started a personal blog to address common concerns about technology and the internet, specifically for Canadian seniors. She believes seniors can benefit from embracing technology and the convenience it offers. Read her blog at www.digitalseniors.ca

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