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What is RFID Technology and How Does it Keep Your Wallet Safe?

Hackers Scanning People

You’ve probably seen advertisements online or on TV for RFID-blocking wallets, but what is an “RFID Blocking Wallet” and why is it important? If you aren’t an electrical engineer it may not make a lot of sense, but I am an electrical engineer and explain what it is and why you really should have one.

RFID” stands for “Radio Frequency IDentification.” As its name describes, it is a technology that is used to easily identify an item using radio waves. You interact with RFID more commonly than you might suspect. It is designed to be as hidden as possible so that you can enjoy the benefits of it without it getting in your way.

Some examples of RFID that you might immediately be familiar with include the anti-theft tags that are placed on expensive products or clothing. If it isn’t removed, it triggers an alarm when a person leaves a building with the tag still on the product. Or, you might live in a gated community where the gate automatically opens when your car approaches the gate. The community tag on your windshield has an embedded RFID tag on it that identifies you (or more precisely, your car) as one that is allowed to enter.

So how does this apply to wallets? To prevent fraud, ever since the early 2000’s credit card companies started using smart chips on their credit cards and also started enabling their cards with RFID. The chip allowed the credit card to communicate a more secure password to the reading device, and the RFID enablement allowed users to “tap to pay” instead of sliding the card into a reader. RFID made it easier and more sanitary to use your card because you didn’t need to touch the reader. “Contactless payment” really became important during the COVID pandemic when everyone tried to touch things as little as possible.

As it is with most things though, convenience comes at the expense of some increased risk. Hackers quickly reasoned “If a retailer can read a person’s credit card without the consumer putting the card into a machine, why can’t I read it while it is still in their wallet?” and the hacker practice known as “scanning” was born.

To scan the credit cards in a person’s wallet or purse, all a hacker needs is a battery powered scanner close enough to scan your cards. A high-quality, high-power scanner will scan all the cards in your wallet at once. Some people claim that hackers can’t really do this because they would need to be too close, but in reality, hackers use more high-powered equipment than the typical retail credit card reader and they only need to be within about 2-3 feet of a person. That may sound pretty close, but we are all routinely that close to others while standing in a checkout line, riding an escalator, or in an elevator.

Just last month it was reported that a misconfigured card reader at a Safeway store read multiple people’s cards and charged some of them for other people’s groceries. (More customers say 'tap-to-pay' charged their credit card through bags, pockets at restaurants, store, even a doctor's office | abc7news.com). Clearly if a misconfigured point-of-sale system can do this, imagine what a hacker can do with even more sophisticated equipment!

Luckily protecting yourself from this kind of attack is very simple – just make your cards unreadable to an RFID scanner. Sounds easy, right? And it is easy! Radio waves don’t penetrate steel. If your wallet was made out of steel, then your cards couldn’t be read when they were in your wallet or purse, but who wants to walk around with a steel wallet? Fortunately, again thanks to modern technology, you can have a steel wallet and not even know it! The secret lies in manufacturing a wallet or purse with a special steel mesh sewn inside the wallet. This cloth mesh blocks all radio signals and protects your cards from being scanned. The cloth is thin, flexible, and you won’t even know that it is there. In fact, unless you try scanning a card in your wallet or the wallet is marked and sold as an RFID blocking wallet, you would never know that there was steel inside your wallet. Of course, some minimalist wallets are created directly out of steel and those are obviously shielded, but there are also real leather wallets and purses that have the steel mesh inside. Below is a picture of what the steel mesh material looks like. To the naked eye it looks like normal material, but magnified 400 times you can see thousands of strands of steel woven into the fabric that breaks up any radio waves.

RFID Shielding Cloth Mesh

RFID Shielding Cloth Mesh Magnified


Since this material can be used like any other cloth, it's possible to make almost any item with this cloth sandwiched inside to make the item RFID blocking. At IronClad Family, we’ve researched and tested dozens of different kinds of wallets and purses and have selected the ones that we believe are the most stylish while still being completely RFID shielded to keep you and your credit cards safe. You can check out all of the different models at our online store, but whether you decide to use one of our stylish steel minimalist wallets or our leather wallets or purses, you really should find a wallet or purse that includes RFID shielding. It is the only way to ensure that your credit, and you and your family’s financial stability are secure.

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