Crooks Now Use Technology to Pick Pockets
Most of us can't live without debit or credit cards; they're almost as good as cash.
But something inside many of the cards can make you vulnerable to ID theft, without even knowing it.
It's fast...easy...and a thief never even has to touch you.
Walking along Nicollet Mall, Walt Augustinowicz, blends right in with the lunchtime crowd, and that's the point.
But he's on a special mission -- Minnesotans look out for each other -- so we asked him to look out for you.
Augustinowicz is carrying a computer case. Hidden inside: a credit card reader you can find for $100 bucks online.
Walt asked: “we're going to do a little experiment today,” on willing participants only.
We watched as he worked the masses along 7th and Nicollet, and it didn’t take him long.
“I got your visa number, “ said Augustinowicz, as he patrolled the sidewalk, looking for valuable information to steal.
"I just got your Visa number is that your Visa number?" he asked people as they were out for lunch on a warm Minnesota day.
Without laying a hand on anyone, he got close enough to swipe important information, like credit card number, expiration date and in some cases, even a name.
Most people had the same reaction, “Wow, wow that's crazy!”
We asked him if we are somehow empowering the bad guys give them an idea they don't already have?
Augustinowicz replied, "They already know how to do this."
It's mainly "new" debit and credit cards at risk...and passports issued since 2006, those with a little icon on them that looks like a radio transmission logo.
The tiny microchip embedded in the card called an RFID, radio frequency identification chip. It contains a signal, capable of transmitting your information, with no on/off switch.
"We want people to know they have these cards so they can take steps to protect themselves, otherwise this crime will become rampantly widespread, “ Augustinowicz told us.
Banks and retailers prefer the new technology in these cards because it's supposed to make paying for things quicker and more convenient. You simply wave a card over a scanner, and you're paid -- done. No swiping or signing.
But crooks can intercept the same signal.
We showed our experiment a computer security expert Mark Lanterman to find out if this demonstration is a scare tactic, or if the threat of ID theft like this is real?
"Is it a security threat? Yes, however as you can see in the video's the stars really need to line up," Lanterman remarked.
Of the 20 volunteers we talked to over lunchtime, we accessed the private information of 25 percent of them, 1 in 4 people.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS contacted major banks, TCF, Wells Fargo, and Chase. None wanted to go on record about security measures involving their cards, but the companies did mention the 3 digit security codes on back of cards couldn’t be read with a scanner like the one we used in the experiment.
As complicated as it is to steal your identity this way, the methods of disabling the chip in your credit card are very simple. Some people use tools lying around the house and simply poke a hole in the chip, without disturbing the magnetic strip.
We found a "hole punch" you probably have laying around the office did the job best.
Keep in mind; you probably should not do that with the chip embedded in your passport, or your driver's license.
Walt (our volunteer thief from the story) owns the company Identity Stronghold that makes sleeves that act as an RFID blocker, preventing anyone from scanning your card info.
You can buy them online for a few bucks.
Walt’s wallets will cost you between $20-50 with Identity Stronghold, we found other cheaper versions looking on sites like Amazon.com.
If you really want to do it the frugal way, wrap your cards in tinfoil. It does the same thing, but you may get some strange looks at the checkout line.