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Credit Card Theft: There’s an App for That

By Tracey Dowdy

Want to know what you’d look like 100lbs heavier? “FatBooth” is the answer. How about smoking without all those bothersome health risks? Check out “Fake Smoker”. Better yet, how about credit card theft without the bother of digging through a stranger’s trash or years developing your hacking skills? As the saying goes, there’s an app for that too!

Available through the Google Play store for the Samsung Galaxy SIII and other popular smartphones, the app utilizes NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to capture the number, name and expiry date on credit cards. NFC technology is used in tap-to-pay systems like MasterCard’s PayPass or Visa’s payWave. Data is stored in a chip instead of the magnetic strip we’re used to, and can be transmitted wirelessly.

“The units that you tap your card on are set on very low ranges, so you have to get within a few inches of the device for it to read your card. But there is nothing inherent in the technology that says it has to be within three to four inches – if you turn the power up you can push it out to 10 or 15 feet,” said David Skillicorn, professor at the school of computing at Queens University.

“You can steal small amounts of money, yes, but you can steal identify – and that’s the real risk. You could phone up MasterCard or Visa and when they ask you to enter your card number, you can change the address listed on the account and other personal details” said Skillicorn.

Currently, the risk is limited to Android devices. Apple doesn’t offer Near Field Communication on its iPhones and Blackberry is “too secure” according to Gordon Agnew, associate professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in cryptography and data security.

When approached, both Visa and MasterCard stated they have strict fraud prevention measures in place. “Though it’s rare that a fraudulent transaction would take place, in the event that unauthorized use of your MasterCard card occurs with fraudulent cards or devices, MasterCard cardholders are protected by MasterCard’s Zero Liability Policy, which means they are not held liable for unauthorized transactions.” However, banks are beginning to issue NFC-enabled debit cards as well as credit cards and liability will vary from bank to bank.

How do you know if your card is at risk and how do you protect yourself? If you see the pie shaped symbol at left, then your card has the capability to be skimmed. Experts suggest buying a metal card holder instead of a wallet, or purchasing a foil lined wallet available at many travel stores. Another option is to simply wrap your card in foil or a piece of mylar. The metal blocks the technology from being skimmed.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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