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So you want to protect your personal info?
You may have been hearing a lot about RFID wallets, particularly with the presence of security risks with credit cards and other personal information. It seems that hackers and thieves lie around every cyber corner, retail store and airport.
So what is it about RFID? How does it help?
Let’s take a look together.
What are RFID wallets?
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.
As the information is traveling through the air via radio frequencies, it can possibly be intercepted by someone else.
This is a form of digital thievery enabling clever criminals access to credit card information. Effectively, this is wireless identity theft.
It requires a reader that accesses data from a distance, using the radio frequencies. Hackers have demonstrated this process in action and just how quickly it can be done.
Once people started to realize this situation, putting their personal information and finances in danger, they started looking for protective measure.
This is where RFID wallets (as well as sleeves, bags or pouches) come into play.
The RFID wallets block RFID readers by design. They basically safeguard the contents of that wallet from electric charges, making your credit cards, and even your passport “invisible.”
As with any new gadget, not all RFID wallets are created equal.
Some are far more effective than others. Additionally, some have a better look or feel for those who carry wallets to their office, business meetings or other more formal settings. You can look here for some insights into the best-rated wallets I recommend, some using RFID.
RFID wallets offer protection against card skimming. It is one more layer of defense you have against having your data stolen.
Note that manufacturers of RFID wallets still suggest you take normal precautionary measures with your wallet including:
- Inventorying your wallet, purse or case: Know what’s there. Don’t trust your memory, make copies of the front and back of the cards and keep that safely at home.Consider how often you take out a card and replace it daily. You might put it in a different location. It might fall in the car seat. Or, it could fall out of your possession. Having those backups give you immediate access to help from your credit cards “Lost and Stolen” telephone number.
- Keep your wallet close: The inside pocket of a jacket is best (particularly if it’s zipped). If you are using a purse, swing the strap in front of your body cross-wise. It’s very hard to grab without dragging you along!
- Take only what you need: You do not need every credit card you own every day, let alone your checkbook. Leave items at home you don’t require for that day (perhaps get a small safe for that purpose).
What are RFID wallets made of?
RFID wallets come in a variety of materials the most common being leather (or leather substitutes), plastic, nylon and aluminum.
There are also RFID Tyvek sleeves, which are incredibly strong. These exteriors provide durability along with some personal style ranging from swank to jazzy (and everything in between).
You know the old saying that it’s what’s on the inside that counts? Well, that’s certainly true with RFID.
Beyond the surface of your wallet, you will find something called a Faraday Cage design. This construction blocks electromagnetic fields using conductive material.
On larger scales, this kind of design protects sensitive electronic equipment from nearby radio waves, lightning strikes, and other surges that could harm them. The concept has just been “sized down” for carrying in your wallet!
What type of metal or material is used in RFID wallets?
What’s inside that wallet?
It’s usually a blend of copper and nickel (or carbon fiber and some other metal) that fits within the exterior of the design and surrounds everything within.
In reading about RFID wallets, you will find them tell you about the megahertz range of frequencies, the average been ten to three thousand mgz.
That is the range that RFID skimmers use in trying to gain access to your information.
How long does an RFID wallet last?
RFID wallets are made to stand up to everyday wear and tear. Many offer warranties of various spans.
Read those carefully.
They come in different flavors, each with different considerations that must be made:
- Limited Warranty: What is the duration and what limitations exist. For example, is this ONLY for manufacturing deficiencies?
- Lifetime Warranty: Is this a worry-free, hassle free? Do they repair or replace your wallet for free, and if so under what circumstances? Does the guarantee cover only manufacturing defects or also liquid damage, accidental breakage, etc.?
- ID/Credit Card Theft: Is there coverage for you should the design prove flawed?
Make sure you read about who the return/exchange process works. The cost of shipping can become hefty.
Also, if the company has an online help presence or phone number, that’s a great bonus for those questions you inevitably have.
RFID Features? Let’s take a look
While the idea of RFID sounds high tech, you have tons of styles from which to choose. Think about what you want in a wallet.
You can get:
- Skinny wallets (also called Ultra Slim). These are perfect for small spaces and people who want to keep it “light”, perfect for Skinny Jeans.
- Wallets with curved edges protecting pockets from any sharp edges. There is nothing worse than pulling out a wallet and having the fabric in your pocket get caught or torn. This design avoids that problem.
- Bifold wallets. Just like a traditional billfold taken up a notch.
- Passport wallets for the frequent flier or anyone who enjoys having a passport handy since it’s viable ID everywhere.
- Waterproof exteriors. Rain? Puddles? Coffee? Need we say more?
- Wallets with varying space for credit cards and ID. Consider how many cards you carry regularly, then shop accordingly.
- One-hand access wallets for fast transactions that keep your other hand free for holding an umbrella, luggage, etc.
- Front pocket design wallets great for shirts or jackets.
- Sleeve wallet for cash, cards and passports. Not a wallet in the strictest sense; more like a glasses case for your credit cards with a layer of protection.
- Cellphone cases with credit card slots. These are great! Two in one management! Most Cellphone cases these days have a space for your cards, so this design makes sure you still have the RFID protection.
- Travel bags, Fanny Packs and Backpacks with interior protected wallet space, when a wallet alone doesn’t offer enough space.
As you can see, there’s a huge variety of different types of RFID wallets and other types of carrying cases, depending on your particular needs.
Why buy RFID protection in a wallet?
Skimming credit cards is a new type of pocket picking with less chance of getting caught. There are even online videos giving instructions on using RFID readers!
I’m not going to link to it – rather, I’ll link to a good explanation of how it works.
The original idea behind chips in our ID and payment methods was making things faster and easier, which it accomplished. It also, however, came with a sticky problem for consumers.
These chips have no “off” buttons.
Hackers have long bragged about how their RFID readers quickly skim people’s private information from several feet away, with some even boasting as much as 10 feet! That means your name, your address, whole credit card numbers and even details from your passport are at risk without you even knowing it.
The whole idea behind RFID wallets, and similar accessories is blocking those attempts and keeping your personal data PERSONAL.
It also avoids the headache of having to report false charges to your credit card company and the time it takes for getting resolution. Particularly if you’re using a debit card, you could be out that money for weeks until the situation is figured out and your money is refunded.
How do RFID wallets work?
We spoke about RFID chips present in many cards for years now. Since 2006 all passports have them–it’s not just your credit cards. Even pets have RFID tracking chips!
The RFID chip works via radio waves. This is its form of communication through which it transmits specific information.
For the lost pet, for example, any vet and many pet stores can scan the RFID chip and get the owner’s contact number. The problem is that there are ways to read these chips without a person requesting that line of communication opened.
That’s where the RFID devices come into play.
Thankfully for consumers, manufacturers of RFID wallets like Bellroy know how to interrupt and block those readers. Basically, this hangs up the phone before it even rings fully!
How to test RFID wallets?
There’s a relatively easy way to do this.
First thing’s first:
You need to find a location or machine that uses RFID readers. Access control systems, like those in parking lots or doorways are examples.
Go there and pass any card in front of it.
If you hear a beep or the light changes, you know that it recognizes RFID cards.
Now, put your card into your RFID wallet. This time there should be no changes when you pass the wallet in front of that mechanism.
There are also low-cost RFID readers out there that you can use in testing your product, but the idea here is saving money. This rudimentary test should provide you with the satisfaction for which you hoped.
If not, time to return the wallet!
How to clean and care for RFID wallets
We have a great leather care guide to which you can refer for far more details than we can present in this article HERE. Nonetheless, let’s get you started with your new RFID wallet on the right foot.
RFID wallets generally include care instructions. This should be your first stop. If you’ve lost the one that came with your wallet, check the manufacturer’s website or contact them directly.
Leather, by far, presents the most upkeep but also provides comfort and ageless sophistication. Anything alkaline damages leather, especially the finish. Waxes, oils and other polish not specifically designed for leather also prove destructive.
When you need to clean out your leather wallet, step one is simply emptying it completely. Put all the contents somewhere safe, then begin.
Wipe down the leather on all sides with a dry, soft cloth. Paper towels work.
If you notice a dry stain, treat it with a dab of rubbing alcohol, gently applied. When that stain has a greasy element, shake a bit of baby powder on it, and remove with a damp paper towel instead.
One important caveat: NEVER put your wallet in a washing machine. Nine times out of ten, this damages even the best-made RFID wallets (or regular leather wallets, for that matter).
The results may not be repairable.
Most manufacturers recommend hand cleaning with a gentle soap and a few drops of water. Afterward, give it a warm rinse, again using a soft cloth. Finally, finish the process with a dry wipe down.
From this point forward, your RFID leather wallet benefits from conditioning with all-purpose leather conditioner.
Finally, when not in use keep your RFID wallet out of the sunlight and high temperatures. Both stiffen leather, sometimes causing cracking or other problems.
RFID Frequently Asked Questions
Got more questions? I’ve got answers.
Here are some of the answers to some of the most common inquiries about RFID wallets:
RFID Skimming – What does it mean?
This is a very sneaky form of digital theft.
By using a specialized reader, a cyber pickpocket reads smart-based cards with RFID chips. Research shows that some readers work up to 30 feet away! They can do this at that distance without you even knowing until you get a credit card bill with unapproved charges.
Additionally the reader can gather your address and other sensitive information for identity theft.
Here’s a great video on how credit card skimming works, in general:
What is RFID Protection?
RFID cards work thanks to radio wave technology.
They make it much easier for us to shop anywhere, among other things. But these cards are vulnerable. RFID shielding products are made in such a manner that blocks the transmission of radio waves.
RFID chips work at 13.56 mHz, and the RFID wallets have interior materials blocking that.
How does RFID shielding work?
There is a metal barrier in RFID protective products.
This, effectively, makes your cards invisible electronically. What’s best here is that barrier is very thin, meaning your RFID wallet is still comfortable for carrying. No need for bulkiness or ugly containers whatsoever.
They are approximately no more than 0.1mm thicker than a normal wallet.
But if RFID Wallets are so thin, how can they possibly protect my identification?
Advances in the way we make various materials makes the RFID possible and very portable. The metal in the wallet is both flexible and thin (sometimes called nano-thin). That metal layer is your safety barrier.
What type of cards have RFID chips?
There are quite a few cards that have integrated RFID chips.
These include credit cards, debit cards, transit cards, hotel keys, driver’s licenses some employee ID cards, building access cards and even some US Government employee and Military cards.
There may be a logo on your card that indicates it being RFID, but many cards do not have this indicator.
In the United States there were about 270 billion such cards being used every day including those issued by Discover, Mastercard, American Express and Visa.
How many cards can RFID products hold?
A lot here depends on your needs. You can get a simple RFID Wallet designed for 3-4 cards or a larger bag that has an interior “wallet” for sensitive material and room outside for your other “take along” items for the day or even a trip.
If you need a large amount of cards in your wallet, check out my post here.
Do I have to put my cards in a specific way?
Nope! Upside down, backward – whatever. You’re good.
Do RFID wallets hold up to daily wear and tear well?
If you take good care of them, particularly the leather ones, they have a reasonably long, proverbial shelf life of approximately 5 years.
That’s a great value!
Does my Passport have a RFID chip?
Yes it does.
There are RFID Passport sleeves, perfect for this purpose.
Overall, it’s easy to see why consumers love RFID protection products like wallets.
They’re a great price for the security and durability provided. Anyone who has ever had a credit card stolen knows how much time and effort goes into fixing that situation.
Right there, the RFID wallet becomes a value-added purchase.