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An illustration of layered stack of debit and credit cards.
An illustration of layered stack of debit and credit cards.
An illustration of layered stack of debit and credit cards.

Published March 5, 2019.

For fashion, maybe. For security, no.

Contactless credit cards are coming, making it super simple to pay in stores: You'll hold your card near a payment terminal, which will pick up data transmitted by radio waves.

Dave Cotton of KHQ-TV interviews Sherry Wallis, an STCU member and financial educator, about the rise in RFID-blocking protection.

But with new technology come new fears about ways people can steal our information — along with offers of products like special wallets and credit card sleeves promising protection against "radio frequency ID" theft.

Before you start stocking up on RFID-blocking accessories, consider whether they're worth it.

What is RFID?

With radio frequency identification, a small chip in your card transmits the account information over radio waves to a reader. The transaction is "contactless."

The U.S. will see a gradual shift to contactless cards in the next three to five years, said Russell Palmer, STCU's card services manager. In Europe, the switch is mandated by 2020.

While some may the bemoan change, Palmer says there's nothing to fear.

"I'm excited for it," he said. "Most will find it to be an added convenience over what's in their wallet now."

Do you need special protection for your card?

In short, no.

For starters, you probably don't have an RFID chip yet.

If you do, there's security built into the technology, including "tokenization," which means the information the card transmits changes with each use.

In theory, a fraudster could read your card's information without your knowledge. But if they did, they'd only be able to use it once. And that's only if you didn't use your card first. For a thief, it's a lot of effort for very little or no return, Palmer said.

There's no need to pay more for a wallet with RFID protection, Palmer says.

As for the wallets, credit card sleeves, and even vests and jeans promising to protect your contactless card: "In my mind, they're a waste of money," Palmer said.

While, yes, they could protect you from that one fraudulent charge, most financial institutions will cover your losses, he said. And wrapping your card in aluminum foil offers just as much protection as the fancy sleeves.

If you're shopping for a new wallet and the one you like has RFID protection, go for it. "But I wouldn't pay an extra dollar for it," Palmer said.

How do you protect your credit card information?

Contactless cards will be safer to use, Palmer said. They'll also make transactions go faster.

But using credit cards in person has already gotten safer. Since chip technology was introduced, the biggest area of credit card fraud has shifted to transactions in which the card isn't physically present, such as online purchases. So watch your statements.

If there's a fraudulent charge, contact your financial institution immediately. And only use your card — online and in person — at places you trust.

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