RFID Skimming: 101

There's nothing worse when traveling internationally to find you've become a victim of RFID skimmers. The inconvenience can turn a long awaited vacation into a tourist's worst nightmare. Unfortunately, becoming a victim of RFID Skimmers is not exclusive to those on holiday it can happen at anytime, home or abroad.

RFID blocking products are available in a number of form factors to provide protection from electronic skimming threats. Having the convenience of RFID or NFC technology in your pocket can in fact be a costly exercise, should you become the victim of skimming.

As the technology is now embedded into a number of items we rely on in our daily lives, including driver's license, passport, credit cards and smart phones, our risk to exposure will naturally arise. Like most things, it’s a numbers game. Unfortunately, at some time your number is bound to come up.


One of the most cost-effective methods of reducing your risk of becoming a victim of crime, in the area of RFID blocking is shielding. By creating a shield around the items you wish to protect, is a proven method to avoid having your personal data captured.

Blocking products are available in disposable sleeves, specifically passport and credit card sized which conveniently fit into your wallet (credit card) or purse. Once, when considering the purchase of a new wallet or purse, the primary decision was color and design. One of the top considerations when purchasing a wallet these days is, does it have RFID blocking capability? There are a wide range of options from which to choose. Prices range from just a few dollars, to more than $100 to get your hands on this shielding technology.


For those who are a little more on the paranoid side – there are product options such as Armourcard. This device is battery powered which is conveniently sized to place into your wallet or purse. The unit is active, meaning when it comes into the proximity of an RFID skimming device it electronically jams the frequency rendering the skimming attempt invalid.

What Is RFID And How Does It Work?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology utilizing a series of radio waves to validate the identity of persons or objects associated with the device. The device can be presented in the form of a proximity-card or a proximity tag, which can be attached to a keyring. Commercially available since the 1970’s, RFID technology is in common use today. Some examples include security access cards, pay pass cards issued by a bank, asset tracking and toll tags affixed to vehicles.


In principal, there are two types of passive RFID technology in use today, Proximity RFID, which are most commonly used in conjunction with an access controlled security systems, the holder of the ‘card/tag’ presents their pre-authorized credentials at the proximity card reader to validate and grant entry or egress to release a door for entry by the holder of the proximity device. Proximity cards or tags must be presented generally within several inches/centimeters of the proximity reader to provide authentication.

Vicinity RFID operates under the same premise however at a much greater distance than proximity readers. An example of Vicinity RFID in use is at the border crossing between Blaine, Canada and Nogales, Mexico. This system utilizes the US PASSport Card and operates as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative for US citizens entering the US via land or sea ports.

The device initiates as a vehicle approaches the border post, the reader initiates to collect the data (number) which then calls up the details from the database which contains pictures and personal information to validate the border crossing.

RFID tags operate at three frequency ranges being low, high and ultra-high frequency. As passive RFID tags are not powered, they instead use the electromagnetic energy transmitted from the reader. The contact distance can vary from between near contact up to 100 feet, or 30 meters.

High Frequency RFID, near field communications (NFC) technology is also utilized in smart phone technology, because the NFC devices must be in close proximity to each other, this method has become common when sharing data between two devices.

Peer to peer communication stands out as NFC is able to act both as a reader and a tag. This feature is utilized for contactless payment or to share information with others by tapping the two phones together.

What steps do you take to protect yourself from RFID Skimming while traveling internationally?

Sandra Hawkins

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