What Is an RFID Protection Wallet and Do You Need One?

Radio frequency identification crime abounds according to many sources on the internet, but is it a real threat to the average person? Find out the truth and if you need an RFID wallet in this article.
Juliana Kenny, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Oct 26, 2022

You’ve likely heard of radio frequency identification (RFID), but there is plenty of misinformation out there about what it is, what it does, how it’s used, and whether or not everyday people should leverage it.

RFID is defined by the United States Department of Homeland Security as technology that “uses radio waves to identify people or objects.” In more technical terms, it is wireless communication that uses the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to identify people or objects.

It’s possible you carry a credit or debit card that is RFID-enabled. If you see a symbol on your card that looks like a radio signal, that means your card has an RFID chip. Designed to facilitate contactless payments, this technology enables you to wave your card at a payment terminal and complete your transaction through the use of RFID signals.

The danger is that any other device that can read RFID chips can obtain your payment information as well, which has spurred widespread fear about how to block RFID cards from being readable. Read on to get the real deal on RFID skimming, blocking, and whether or not you need an RFID wallet.

In this article
What is an RFID wallet?
What is RFID skimming?
Do I need an RFID wallet?
How to keep your credit cards safe
RFID Wallet FAQs
Bottom line

What is an RFID wallet?

An RFID-blocking wallet contains carbon fiber or metal-based layers or wrappings that effectively block the electromagnetic fields from RFID-scanning devices from reaching your RFID-enabled card. If a scanning device approaches your card and tries to obtain its information (known as RFID skimming), the layer disperses those incoming electromagnetic waves and prevents the scanner from reading the card.

An RFID-blocking wallet will indeed prevent unwanted RFID-scanning devices from obtaining the information stored on your card as long as the card is inside the wallet. The question that remains is not about how effective your wallet is, but rather if you actually need one.

What is RFID skimming?

RFID skimming is a crime involving illegally using a scanner to wirelessly scan a payment card to gather the victim’s payment information. While RFID skimming is a criminal offense, the scanning technology used to skim is widely, legally available. If positioned within a certain proximity to an RFID-enabled payment card, the scanner obtains the payment information from the card via radio waves.

In 2020, the U.S. alone had the most contactless cards of any market globally at 175 million, according to Visa, and nine of the top 10 U.S. issuers were actively rolling out contactless cards. The proliferation of RFID-enabled payment cards is partly what makes RFID skimming a threat, but the realistic possibility that your card will be skimmed is not so cut and dry.

While the technology is out there to scan your RFID-enabled cards and obtain your payment information, there have been very few instances of RFID crime. Companies that make RFID-protection products have championed the threat of RFID theft, but experts say there is little to no risk of it actually happening to you.

Do I need an RFID wallet?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask, but security experts and law enforcement remain skeptical of RFID skimming as a real threat. Does a website selling RFID wallets tell you this is an actual threat to your identity safety? It’s likely because they want you to buy their products.

A computer security expert interviewed by NPR says RFID crime is unlikely because “thieves don’t want to waste their time.” The lack of RFID crime can be attributed to two things:

  • Second-generation RFID cards protect their information.
  • RFID crime is high risk, low reward.

You won’t see too many police reports about RFID theft, either, in case you’re looking for hard evidence. RFID crime has been popularized by misinformation around the web—seemingly supported by YouTube videos and the fact that global retailers sport RFID-blocking products.

Ultimately, if you want to use an RFID-blocking wallet, it can’t hurt. The fact is there are RFID skimming devices out there, so it’s not a bad idea to have one even if it is probably unnecessary. Alternatively, you can opt for RFID-blocking sleeves for your cards and/or bags that do the same thing as a wallet.

[Callout box] You can also wrap your credit card in aluminum foil for a cost-effective way to block RFID signals from being picked up by skimmers and gain peace of mind. And if you’re concerned about pickpockets, try carrying your wallet in your front pocket or using a purse with built-in pickpocket protection.

How to keep your credit cards safe

If your payment card information is to be stolen, it will probably happen in ways unrelated to RFID—and you can prepare for these crimes.

Credit card theft can occur through hacking into your personal accounts and retrieving your information in a breach. To prevent this, you should regularly update your passwords or consider using a password manager. Should your identity be compromised in other ways—such as through you becoming a victim of a phishing scam—consider using identity theft protection tactics, such as:

  • Reviewing your credit reports
  • Reviewing your bank statements
  • Properly destroying sensitive information
  • Using an identity theft protection service

If your credit card information has been stolen, take the following steps:

  1. Immediately contact your card issuer to freeze access to your card and take any steps they individually recommend, such as issuing a new credit card number.
  2. Change your login and password information related to your financial accounts.
  3. Keep a close eye on your credit card statement.
  4. Examine your credit reports for any fraud.
  5. Report the crime to the police.

While RFID crime may never materialize for you, credit card theft occurs every day. Take these smart precautions to keep your personal information safe online.

RFID Wallet FAQs


+

Is an RFID wallet really necessary?

It’s not really necessary to buy an RFID wallet to protect your credit cards. That’s because most RFID cards have built-in protection, and many hackers prefer to avoid this type of theft because it’s high risk and low reward.


+

How do I know if my wallet has RFID?

Most RFID wallets have an RFID tag or mark that tells you it has RFID-blocking technology. To be absolutely sure, you could put your card in the wallet and swipe it across an RFID reader to see if any signals are transmitted.


+

Can RFID be hacked?

RFID scanners are easy to make, and a hacker could theoretically scan an RFID credit card while it’s in your purse or pocket. This would allow them to steal money or your personal information. However, most cybersecurity experts agree that RFID hacking isn’t a threat for the average person.


+

What is EMV and is it safer than RFID?

EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, is another type of chip that’s embedded in certain types of credit cards as an alternative to the magnetic stripe. Generally, EMV and RFID are considered equally safe.

Bottom line

RFID technology has grown in popularity to facilitate contactless payments in many countries, and many global card providers have embraced it. RFID skimming is a method using a scanning device to retrieve payment information from an RFID-equipped payment card. While you are not likely to be a victim of RFID crime, it won’t hurt to use an RFID-blocking wallet, sleeve, or bag.

Scammers will try everything to get your personal info, but with a little know-how, you can keep your data safe. Here are 10 online safety tips you should follow.

Author Details
Juliana Kenny
Juliana is a professional copywriter and brand strategist with 12 years of experience writing in the technology field. She has led content teams in multiple B2B technology marketing firms as well as managed technology and science channels for a global news start-up, but writing and creating brand stories is where her true passion lies.