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My Compromised Debit Card and My New Russian Friend

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I hope Alexey in Russia enjoys the $271 worth of Halloween costumes he ordered using my debit card information. Alexey made a few other purchases before I became aware something was amiss with my account and canceled my card. Imagine my shock to find that a fellow in Russia was having fun spending my money while I sat at home in Florida. How, you ask, did Alexey in Russia get my debit card information?

Since I was always in possession of my card, my first guess was that a skimmer had been inserted into the keypad of the credit/debit card device at a store I may have shopped at recently. I’d made every effort to use my card at large stores, generally national chains, where the checkout area is always heavily populated and the chance of a skimmer being used would be remote. Skimmers are typically found at gas stations where customers use their cards at the pump. I’ve paid for my gas with cash to avoid using these potentially suspect devices. In fact, I’d only used this card three times after returning from Europe, where I didn’t use the card at all.

Which led me to learn about a new method of credit/debit card info stealing. When I visited the bank to fill out the fraud report and otherwise beg for the stolen money to be put back into my account, I was told skimming was probably not the method used to obtain my info; it was an RFID (radio frequency identification) reader. I checked on eBay and they can be had for as little as $12.99. Since the Patriot Act, US Passports, credit and debit cards, driver’s licenses, and possibly many other forms of identification contain a small chip chock-full of personal information. With an RFID reader, this information can be read up to three feet away.

Unsuspecting US travelers can now travel overseas never imagining that terrorists who might want to target people of certain nationalities need only purchase an RFID reader and read the transponders on the passports of the US travelers. The terrorists can have an area wired with bombs and simply detonate them when the RFID reader indicates a sufficient number of US travelers are milling about.

Presently, the RFID readers are being used to procure your credit or debit card information which is then “sold” to another party, usually someone not in the immediate geographic location. Then that person happily spends your money until you become aware of it and cancel the card, or until the account becomes overdrawn.

Your protection from this is to wrap your cards in tinfoil. Yup! It’s not a tinfoil hat, but it’s an approximation of a Faraday cage invented by Michael Faraday (not Daniel Faraday, although with all the time shifting in Lost, are we sure Daniel Faraday is not Michael Faraday?). So now I’m going to be the peculiar customer who must unwind the tinfoil from her driver’s license and credit and debit cards when she shops. All the people in the line waiting patiently behind me will be overjoyed by this as I carefully unwrap then re-wrap my treasures. And I suppose the next time I travel I’ll set off the metal detector with my tinfoil-wrapped passport. Ah! Life is so wonderful! Now, if I could only get my stolen money back from Alexey.

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