En español | If you're among some 140 million Americans who carry credit or debit cards imbedded with "smart chips," some of your personal data could be stolen by anyone with a device selling on the Internet for as little as $30.
Without requiring a physical swipe, the device can collect account numbers, expiration dates and other information from cards that contain RFID — radio frequency identification — chips.
RFID isn't a wide-open door for crooks. The reader devices cannot glean personal identification numbers or CVV codes, those three digits on the backs of cards (or four digits on the front of American Express cards). In newer smart-chip plastic, the cardholder's name is also unreadable this way. And without that information, counterfeit cards can't be produced or online purchases made.
The primary danger comes if you carry a single card that contains an older RFID chip — it can send out a clear signal to an illicit reader device. But if you have a wallet full of plastic, multiple transmissions can be jumbled and unintelligible to the scammer.
It's easy to protect yourself. Just place smart-chip cards in RFID-protective card sleeves, which cost a few dollars.
Firms such as IDStronghold and RFID Shield sell them, as well as online retailers. Or cut two pieces of cardboard the size of a credit card and wrap each with aluminum foil, suggests the Better Business Bureau. Then place the chip-containing card between the foil-wrapped pieces to block data transmission.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling. Have a look at our Scam Alert archive for past warnings about the con artists who too often seek to part Americans from their hard-earned money.