RFID credit cards: Should you worry about protection?

1
Tim Robberts/Getty Images
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) credit cards are a type of contactless card technology. The beauty of RFID credit cards is that they allow you to make your payment by simply tapping your card at the payment terminal.

While this technology has been on the rise for years, demand became even greater during the pandemic as people were looking for ways to minimize contact with surfaces. However, with any new technology, concerns for security are always on the table. If you’re wondering how safe RFID credit cards are, you’re in for some good news.

What is an RFID credit card and how does it work?

An RFID credit card is equipped with radio frequency identification technology. This allows your credit card to communicate with a payment terminal using a radio frequency instead of a magnetic strip.

RFID technology allows you to simply tap or wave your credit card near a card reader or ATM. Using this technology to make purchases gives you the ability to complete transactions within seconds. Plus, your card never has to leave your hand, minimizing contact with the card terminal and the likelihood of leaving your card in the reader.

How to determine if your card is RFID-enabled

While RFID technology is becoming the norm for credit cards, not all credit cards have been updated with the technology. If you’re not sure whether your card is RFID enabled, you can easily check by taking a look at the card.

RFID-enabled cards have a logo on the front or back of the card that looks like a Wi-Fi symbol turned on its side. This symbol is meant to represent the radio frequency used by the card to make it contactless.

If your card has that symbol, you should be able to make purchases with a wave or a tap of your card. To be sure, you can test it the next time you go to a shop. When you’re at the checkout, look for the contactless logo on the card reader (it’s the same logo that’s on your card). Then, simply tap your card on the payment terminal to complete your transaction.

How secure are RFID credit cards?

RFID credit cards are considered to be as safe as EMV chip cards, and data theft concerning RFID cards is uncommon. This is because of how these cards transmit information and what information is shared.

Unlike traditional credit cards, RFID cards use one-time codes to complete each transaction. Every time you use your RFID card, a new code is created, thus making it more difficult for your information to be compromised.

Do you need RFID-blocking protection?

Because RFID credit cards work via radio frequencies, some concern has been drummed up that a card reader could pick up your card information without your knowledge. For this reason, there are quite a few products on the market, such as sleeves and wallets, that claim to have RFID protection.

However, these products are not necessary to keep your RFID credit cards safe. For a person to compromise your card information, they would have to get very close to you, have a card reader that could pick up a signal and have no barriers between the card and card reader.

While it is technically possible for a thief to find a way to skim your RFID card, they would have to work quite hard to do so.

Tips for preventing credit card theft

RFID credit cards are some of the most secure credit cards at our disposal, but it’s still good to take precautions as with any other credit card.

For starters, consider setting up mobile alerts for all of your accounts. This will give you a notification any time your card is used, allowing you to immediately identify suspicious charges.

Another good practice is to make sure you have a strong password for your online accounts (and to avoid saving your password on websites, in particular). If you’re worried about losing your password or forgetting it, you can take advantage of a password management app like Dashlane or LastPass.

Lastly, make sure you’re taking the time to review your credit card statements and credit report. These tools document activity on your accounts and give you a clear picture of how your card is being used and what you’re being charged for.

Normally you are allowed a free credit report each year. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can get free, weekly credit reports until April 20, 2022.

The bottom line

RFID credit cards allow you to pay with a tap, rather than inserting or swiping your card. Special RFID-blocking wallets and sleeves, despite their popularity, generally aren’t necessary for security because the technology requires an obstruction-free environment. In other words, most materials—such as a regular wallet, a purse, or a pocket—will prevent the RFID technology from working, making it tough for a scammer to tap your card without your knowledge.