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The Everyday Household Item That Can Keep Your Credit Card Safe

Christine DiGangi

Contactless payment technology is designed to make transactions swift and convenient. You just tap your card or phone to the payment terminal, and you’re done. Turns out, that enjoyable simplicity extends to the people trying to steal data, because thieves need only proximity to swipe information from unsuspecting contactless card carriers.

There’s a simple solution to this issue: Get yourself some aluminum foil to protect the cards.

Check the Kitchen for Security Tools

The technology that makes contactless payment possible is called radio-frequency identification (RFID), because the card and payment terminal communicate via radio waves. A newer iteration of the technology is near-field communication (NFC). Aluminum foil interrupts the signals enabled by RFID and NFC. It’s not perfect, but it’s something most people can quickly put together with things they already have.

Chris Losacco, a mobile strategist at mobile technology and marketing company Punchkick Interactive, said the most effective way to prevent theft is to put all RFIC or NFC cards next to each other in your wallet, because scanners won’t be able to identify a single card amid the scrambled frequencies. If you only have one card or aren’t sure when cards are RFID or NFC-enabled, you can make a shield. Losacco explained how it works via email:

“Take pieces of foil and wrap them around two card-sized pieces of cardboard (or even an old Blockbuster video card—we all have some unused plastic cards from loyalty programs lying around) and put those in your wallet so that when it is closed, these pieces are closest to the outside,” he wrote. “This will create a unilateral shield that is MILDLY effective. It will work, but because the solution is not gapless, the level of shielding is diminished.”

If you’re a coffee drinker, you may have another trick in the kitchen. You can make a credit card wallet by washing out a coffee bag and cutting it into a small credit card wallet.

“T he metallic material, paired with the fact that the bag itself is airtight (or nearly so), will create a much more cohesive shield,” Losacco said. “Your cards will also be paired together, so you’ll couple the shield with the fact that your cards will effectively encrypt themselves by clustering the signals.”

Do You Have Contactless Payment Cards?

In the U.S., you won’t see too many payment terminals equipped with a tap-to-pay option. Some mobile phones employ NFC (for instance, you can tap to pay with Google Wallet on Android devices), but RFID cards aren’t widespread. Contactless cards are increasingly popular in public transit passes, which in many cases also double as debit cards, making them more valuable to thieves.

The U.S. has been slow to implement the technology, but as it grows in popularity, it’s good to know how it differs from the magnetic stripe technology to which we’re accustomed (and we’ve learned a lot about it recently due to the prevalence of data breaches). Current credit card data can be stolen if you swipe it through a compromised terminal or a payment slot rigged with a card skimmer, and entering payment information online also makes it vulnerable to theft. With RFID- and NFC-enabled payment methods, your information could be stolen without the card ever leaving your wallet.

The foil or coffee bag could prevent this sly thievery.

“T here is no question that aluminum foil can block radio frequency signals,” Losacco said. “The question is whether or not you are appropriately using the material (or any other conductive metallic substance) to create a seamless, skinning effect to protect your cards.”

There are also protective wallets and sleeves you can buy for the same purpose, but no matter the form of payment you carry, you need to closely monitor its activity. Do you need a hacker-proof wallet? Not necessarily. If someone steals your information, the easiest way to know it is to check your statements frequently for unauthorized account activity, which you can cut off as soon as you find it.

Sudden changes in credit scores can indicate identity theft, as well, which is one of the many reasons you should check your scores regularly. Using the free tools on Credit.com, you can see where your credit stands, as well as watch out for fraud, because no matter how much foil you stuff in your wallet, you’re never completely safe from identity theft.

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