The Full Story
What is RFID?
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips allow personal information to be stored on your credit card or passport. Previously, passports only contained physical data. However, modern U.S. passports have a symbol, resembling a camera, below the United States Seal. These are known as e-Passports. The symbol indicates that RFID data is stored within your passport, including your name, date of birth, and photograph. This information is transmitted when triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader.
The Department of Homeland Security is aware of information skimming and has installed protective features into e-Passports. Here's a link to their site for more info: e-Passports | Homeland Security (dhs.gov)
Most chip-enabled credit cards are not RFID equipped. They transmit data only when inserted into a chip reader. Contactless forms of payment, such as Apple Pay, transmit encrypted data. Each transaction generates a new passcode between the terminal and card, drastically reducing the likelihood of identity theft.
Do wallets really prevent RFID?
Wallet companies capitalize on the RFID scare, using it as a marketing scheme to increase sales. Often, they sacrifice the quality of a wallet to provide so-called RFID protection. A true RFID protected wallet would most likely resemble a thick, unwieldy pouch. It would also be enclosed by zippers on all side (or constructed from metal) since radio waves propagate in every direction.
The infrequency of RFID
Keeping your data secure in an increasingly digital world is a valid concern. Admittedly, RFID theft does occur on exceedingly rare occasions. However, RFID theft is a risky, awkward, and costly endeavor for cyber criminals and therefore happens infrequently.
The truth is that most criminals have far easier access to private data via the internet and the dark web. There are entire online marketplaces designed to disseminate personal data, including credit card information. It would be inefficient and wildly improbable for a cyber-criminal to visit a busy place like an airport, stand inches away from you, and steal your data under the watchful gaze of passersby and TSA agents. Thus, although this threat exists, it is unlikely and extremely uncommon.
Don't just take our word for it! Here are some independent studies about RFID Theft: