Identity theft risks at the airport

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You may be aware of the dangers of identity theft while using your smartphone, shopping or even going to the doctor, but few of us think about the risk of ID theft at airports.

One seemingly innocuous piece of paper that poses a significant risk is your boarding pass, which many people discard at the airport after their flight. While your pass does not appear to include much personal information, the truth is that the boarding pass bar code contains information — including your name and phone number — that could be used to victimize you.

Bar code readers are cheap and easy to get, so an enterprising identity thief would merely need to go through airport garbage cans to turn your trash into his treasure.

What to do to protect yourself

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. All you have to do is tuck your used boarding passes into your pocket and shred them when you get home.

If you don’t have a shredder, consider purchasing one as a holiday gift to yourself. There are many documents that we routinely get rid of at home that contain sensitive personal information, and shredding is the best way to discard these papers.

Credit cards in airports

Another identity theft problem cropping up at airports involves credit cards with Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, technology embedded in microchips in the card. These cards can be safely used for purchases by merely waving the card within a few inches of a remote card reader used by retailers.

Unfortunately, retailers aren’t the only people reading smart cards. An identity thief with a small, remote card reader in his pocket needs to be within only about 10 inches of the card you are carrying in your wallet or purse to be able to read the information on the card.

There are simple precautions you can take to protect the information on your smart card from being stolen. Entrepreneurs have created new thin wallets made out of aluminum that will block the card readers used by identity thieves and prevent identity theft. These are a good choice.

A simpler, but less attractive solution is to merely wrap your RFID credit cards in aluminum foil before you put them in your wallet or purse; this, too, will effectively block illegal card reading.

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, a professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, author of “Identity Theft Alert” and editor of the blog