Smartphones can lead to credit card skimming scam, investigation finds

Tori Floyd
The Right Click

New technology is making it easier than ever to pay for goods and services in a hurry. You can pay for your lunch with a tap of your credit card or buy a new pair of shoes with a wave of your smartphone. But you may be paying a price for that convenience: an investigation by CBC has found just how easy it is for scammers to get your credit card information, thanks to that technology. And all they need is a smartphone and close proximity to your wallet.

The CBC investigation found that the Near-Field Communication (NFC) antenna included in some phones, like the Samsung Galaxy SIII that they used for their test, was enough to pick up the numbers of credit cards enabled with EMV chip technology. If you’re using the Visa payWave system or the Mastercard PayPass system, then you’ve got an EMV chip in your credit card.

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CBC’s investigators downloaded a free app available in the Google Play store for the Android device, held it about 10cm away from their intended target’s credit card, and in a few seconds, had picked up their credit card number.

“They don’t even need to talk to you or touch you,” Michael Legary of Seccuris Inc. told CBC. “They can get information about who you are. That may make you more of a target for certain types of crime.”

The technique has being growing in use in Europe, despite being flagged as an issue last year by Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom last year. In the Channel 4 News test, their expert managed to get a target’s full credit card number, expiry date and name with a swipe of their phone, meaning they could take that information and start making purchases on websites where the credit card security code isn’t required.

So how do you protect yourself from these threats? If it’s something you’re really concerned about, you can invest in a RFID blocking wallet, which uses the technology of a Faraday cage to prevent the electric transmission of information between the chip in your card and the smartphone antenna (alternatively, you can make your own Faraday cage wallet using duct tape and aluminum foil). If you’re not interested in changing your wallet, you can minimize your risk by making sure your wallet or credit cards are out of site from would-be thieves – having a bulging wallet in the back of your jeans might as well be a bull’s-eye to a would-be card skimmer.

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Above all else, keep an eye on your credit card bill so you know if there are any fraudulent transactions on your account. Both Visa and MasterCard assured CBC that the technology they use is safe and secure, but in the event of a fraudulent transaction, their customers won’t be held liable.

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