At least once a year, the contactlesspayments industry, indeed all of us, has to put up with someonespreading fear about contactless cards and the ability of someoneto scan the card of a passerby with a portable contactless reader.Yes, it’s true. It can be done. But who cares? The risk is beyondminuscule.
Recent TV reporting unfortunately continues to mislead consumersand undermine a useful technology. In a recent story, theinvestigative reporter worked with a security expert who had,indeed, put together an RFID reader, connected it to a netbook andconcealed the rig in a pouch. The story shows him, and thereporter, scanning card numbers from traveler purses and backpockets. The expert even shows the scanning results to the personafterward.
At the end of the story, the reporter reports that banks are gladto exchange the contactless card for a magstripe only version,ignorant, of course, that from a security point of view, this is astep backwards. And then she goes on to say a foil-lined sleeve canbe purchased from a company that will block the scanner. Allaccurate.
She neglects to say that the CEO of a company sellingtinfoil-lined sleeves that prevent such scanning is her “securityexpert”. Please, people, we can do better.
I feel sorry for the card brands PR folks. They must see thisnonsense all the time and I imagine they’ve seen the same companycrank up other gullible news outlets in the past. If this were aserious source of payment fraud, we all would have heard about itand, more important, the card brands would have pulled contactlesscard programs entirely.
This is also unfortunate because, at last, US transit operatorsare getting interested in accepting open-loop contactless cards fortheir cost and speed advantages, advantages that accrue to both thetransit authority and the consumer. Never mind that the NFC wave isabout to come ashore.
News like this is no danger of winning a DuPont, George Polk, orPeabody Award (no relation) for this fearmongering. Of course, itmay just be an infomercial masquerading as news.