Do I Need an RFID-Blocking Sleeve for My Credit Card?

Woman with credit card
Photo by Have a nice day Photo / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to the “2-Minute Money Manager,” a short video feature answering money questions submitted by readers and viewers.

Today’s question is about protecting your credit cards; specifically, whether you should use a special sleeve or wallet to keep your plastic from being electronically stolen.

Watch the following video, and you’ll pick up some valuable info. Or, if you prefer, scroll down to read the full transcript and find out what I said.

You also can learn how to send in a question of your own below.

For more information, check out “How to Protect Yourself From Soaring Data Breach Crimes.” You can also go to the search at the top of this page, put in the words “identity theft” or “scam” and find plenty of information on just about everything relating to this topic.

And if you need anything from a better credit card to a mortgage, be sure and visit our Solutions Center.

Got a question of your own to ask? Scroll down past the transcript.

Don’t want to watch? Here’s what I said in the video

Hello, and welcome to your “2-Minute Money Manager.” I’m your host, Stacy Johnson, and this answer is brought to you by Money Talks News, serving up the best in personal finance news and advice since 1991.

Today’s question comes from Al:

“Do high-frequency anti-theft cards (i.e., “shield cards”) work? Are they as good as RFID-blocking sleeves?”

Are your credit cards safe?

Imagine a pickpocket so skilled, he could steal your credit cards from a few feet away without you feeling a thing.

According to some hawking RFID protection, it’s possible. In fact, they say, anyone can theoretically pickpocket your plastic with an RFID card reader, no skill required. That’s because some credit cards are continually broadcasting information. All a crook has to do is own the equipment that captures, or “skims,” it.

Protecting you against RFID theft has become a big business, with products like backpacks, wallets, sleeves and shield cards, all designed to shield your RFID cards from being skimmed.

What’s RFID?

RFID stands for “radio frequency identification.”

Originally used to track inventory, RFID transmits data through the air so it can be read by nearby contactless readers. The technology has since been used in credit cards, passports, driver’s licenses and more, although it’s more prevalent on European credit cards than American ones.

Is RFID the same as a chip card?

Credit cards with digital chips are called EMV cards (short for the companies that developed it: Europay, Mastercard and Visa.) These are not the same thing as RFID cards. (Note that to use an EMV chip card, you insert it into a reader, not just get close to one.)

To see if you have an RFID card, look for radio waves on the card — the same sort of symbol you see on your smartphone or computer when you’re hooked up to Wi-Fi.

Visa PayWave
nowuseeit / Shutterstock.com

While credit cards with chips are now ubiquitous, RFID cards are much rarer.

Is RFID as dangerous as they say?

RFID-blocking products are a textbook example of the expression “fear sells.” While millions of us have been subjected to credit card and ID theft, I did a web search and couldn’t find a single example of credit card theft by RFID skimming.

There are good reasons for this. First, although RFID cards may be transmitting information, that information is likely to be encrypted, so it’s unusable.

More to the point, it’s much easier for a crook to go online and buy hundreds of credit card numbers stolen in a data breach than to brush up against individual people in hopes they have an RFID-enabled card in their pocket or purse.

In short, when it comes to credit card and ID theft, RFID skimming is the least of your worries.

A cheap solution

If you’re still concerned about RFID theft, there’s a less elegant, but just as effective, prevention device: aluminum foil. Wrapping your cards in foil defeats the skimmer. Some say it does so even more effectively than products designed for the purpose.

I hope that answers your question, Al. I’ll see you all next time!

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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and I’ve also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.

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