Airport RFID Skimming

With the prevalence of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC (Near Field Communications) technologies utilized in credit cards (Pay Wave and Pay Pass technology) and smart phones, the statistics are becoming greater that your chances of becoming a victim of RFID skimming is likely. Areas where people congregate including food courts, airports and shopping centers are popular haunts for skimmers.

Known as digital pickpockets, the criminals tend to situate themselves at locations where high volumes of foot traffic are common place. Airports provide ideal locations in which to capture the required data. The equipment is discreetly placed in a backpack, handbag or satchel bag.

The criminal can move freely about the crowd to collect as much credit card data as he/she requires or alternatively, he/she could take a seat in a high traffic area of the airport, grab a bite to eat and place the bag containing the device on the table and collect the data as people walk by. Victims of skimming are unaware their card has been compromised.


Criminals capture card information by using a ‘skimmer’ – a piece of electronic equipment which mimics the characteristics of a legitimate RFID reader – such as a POS (Point of Sale) machine. Units are compact in size easily transportable, and have a read range of approximately six inches (15cm) away. More sophisticated units are available to capture data over longer distances. In some instances, antennas are added to the base unit to capture data over a greater distance. Once the credit card details have been harvested, the card details can be duplicated on to a newly manufactured card or alternatively used for online credit fraud activity.

Notification of such fraud is usually detected by your banking institution. The main cost is the inconvenience suffered as a result of the fraud. The card will be canceled and a new one issued. For the most part, fraudulent activity is capped at around $100.00 USD per transaction as many transactions require the supply of the CCV number – the 3 digit number on the back of the card to validate an online transaction. Most banks limit Pay Pass or Pay Wave transactions to a maximum limit of $100, however online purchases are open to exploitation for higher valued transactions, should the vendor not request the CCV, credit card verification number.

Banks utilizing NFC technology are constantly looking at ways to close the doorways to exploitation of credit card technology. Because RFID technology cannot be turned off, those carrying around their credit cards are always vulnerable to thieves practicing this method of theft.

When considering ways to limit your risk, there are a number of products on the market catering to RFID blocking. Many brands exist in the market, including RFID Blocking Wallets, RFID Passport Wallets and sleeves to shield Passports and Credit Cards.

Aluminium foil is also an inexpensive way to minimize the risk of skimming. It is recommended the card or passport is placed inside folded foil and covered on all sides. While this method is not the ideal, it has been proven to reduce the read range of a card from approximately 1.5 feet, to 3-5 inches.

Other methods at shielding include a GarbleCard, which is a patented device, the size of a credit card. The unit shields, detunes and absorbs RFID signals.

Have you been a victim of an electronic pickpocket?

Sandra Hawkins

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