What you need to know about the new 'tap and go' cards

Are RFID Credit Cards Safe?

by Bill Hardekopf


RFID stands for radio frequency identification, and it is becoming a popular addition to modern day credit cards. These "smart cards" are supposed to be more convenient than traditional credit cards because you do not have to swipe the cards to use them. All you do is brush them up next to a credit card reader, and it processes your payment request.

While these cards may seem convenient, they can also be easily compromised. A significant percentage of the high tech credit card fraud taking place has something to do with smart cards and RFID. So it is important to protect yourself if you decide to use a card that has RFID.

Which Credit Cards Have RFID?

The key names to look for in RFID credit cards are Visa PayWave, MasterCard PayPass, American Express ExpressPay, and Discover Zip. These programs represent different forms of tap and go technology, and they all function the same way. Some local banks will also offer RFID credit cards, provided through one of the programs mentioned above.

The specific cards that offer this technology change frequently, and many credit cards come in two different versions. You can either select the RFID model or the traditional model, depending on what you want to use. If you're looking into a specific credit card, see if it promotes something along the lines of "wave and go," "tap and pay," or "tap and go."

The Problem with RFID

RFID technology makes it fairly easy for someone with a handheld reader to brush up next to you and steal your card information. This can happen anywhere people are present. RFID cards are supposed to be protected with extra security questions to avoid such situations, but new cases of theft crop up time and time again. Some people have reportedly been able to steal credit card information with nothing more than a cell phone and a free app.

Another issue with RFID credit cards is that most businesses still do not have the machines they need to process these cards. Those that do may only be able to work with one or two providers, like Visa or MasterCard. In that case, your Discover Zip wouldn't be usable, at least not in the tap and go sense. You'd have to swipe it like normal, which defeats the purpose of having an RFID card.

How to Protect Your RFID Card

If you have an RFID credit card, there are a few things you can do to protect it from identity thieves. Try these tricks to help protect your accounts:

  • Tyvek sleeves: Tyvek credit card sleeves are inexpensive, and they have the ability to block RFID signals. You can make these yourself with Tyvek material, or you can buy them already made in the size of a credit card. Tyvek is most often used for construction workers, so make sure you include the term "credit card" if you're going to run an Internet search for them.

  • RFID wallets: RFID wallets can be a bit expensive to buy, but they will protect the cards you own from hackers passing by. All you have to do is put your money and cards in your wallet, and the material on the outside of the wallet will do the rest.

  • Account monitoring: Simply watching your account could be the best protection possible. You could be a victim of identity theft no matter what kind of card you have.

If you are still concerned about security, try looking for a card that does not have RFID technology. You may have to spend a few extra seconds swiping it at the register, but that will be worth the peace of mind.


Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories, such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card.

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  • For more on credit card safety, please visit here.

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