The Benefits (and Risks) of “Swipe and Go” Cards

By Mike Peterson
In March 9, 2012

They’re the latest innovation in credit- and debit-card technology:  “Swipe and go” cards make it easier than ever to get in and out of the grocery store, the gas station, or anywhere else.  These new cards look like traditional cards – except that in addition to the traditional magnetic strip, swipe and go cards are also equipped with a small radio frequency identification (RFID) chip containing your credit card information. Instead of running your card through a card reader or handing it to a cashier, you simply wave your card or wallet in front of an RFID-compatible scanner.  In an instant, the scanner reads your credit card, the transaction is approved, and you’re out the door.

 

But are these high-tech cards putting you at a greater risk for ID theft?  While some people say that RFID technology makes for a simpler, safer card transaction, others say the cutting-edge technology also opens the door for tech-savvy crooks.

 

It seems like the truth is somewhere in the middle:  For the most part, swipe and go cards actually help protect against ID theft – but the technology does present some opportunities for new forms of credit card theft.  Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of credit cards with RFID technology:

The Pros:

  •  Fewer people handling your card.  Cards equipped with RFID technology eliminate the need for you to hand your card over to cashiers or servers – in fact, you don’t even have to remove the card from your wallet!  And, of course, the fewer people that handle your card, the lower your risk of someone stealing your information.
  • Transactions are superfast.  Did I mention that you don’t even need to take your card out of your wallet?  Swipe and go transactions are much quicker than your typical credit card transactions – if you’re the type that likes to get in and out as fast as possible, RFID is probably the way to go.
  • Encrypted data adds extra protection.  Unlike the information in the traditional magnetic strip, the information in your card’s RFID chip is encrypted.  In other words, if a thief manages to steal your credit card information by, say, using an RFID scanner, that information will be completely useless unless he can break the encryption on it.

The Cons:

  •  Thieves are tech-savvy.  Although it’s unlikely, it is possible for thieves to use a combination of RFID scanners and mobile devices (like smartphones or tablets) to fish for credit card info. Although there haven’t been reports of large-scale RFID theft, teams of tech researchers have been able to successfully steal swipe and go credit card info – and some have reported successfully hacking through encryption.
  • RFID technology doesn’t protect against old-fashioned credit card theft.  Swipe and go cards are still credit cards – and that means they can still be stolen.  While swipe and go technology has made it difficult for thieves to access and use your card’s RFID data,  these new cards don’t offer any extra protection if your card gets stolen from your wallet.

The bottom line is, while swipe and go cards generally offer a quick and safe transaction, you should still use them with caution, just like any other credit or debit card.  If you’re worried about hackers or high-tech ID theft, you might want to invest in an aluminum-lined wallet or credit card sleeve, which prevents would-be thieves from scanning your card on the sly.

 

Not sure if your card is equipped with RFID technology?  Call your bank or credit card company, or look for a logo on the back – the cards are usually marked.  If your card is on the new side, you might have one.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.