Protect yourself from high-tech pickpockets

LOS ANGELES On the streets, at the airport, even at the mall, thanks to new technology called radio frequency identification, or /*RFID*/, you could be the victim of a high-tech pickpocket.

"People can pickpocket you without even touching you," said Walt Augustinowicz, founder of /*Identity Stronghold*/.

RFID chips in identification badges and credit cards can send out or receive short-range radio signals. The chips are also in all U.S. passports issued since 2006, and in passport ID cards.

And RFID will soon be used in grocery scanners to lessens waiting in line.

"So if you're going out the checkout line, you don't have to hold this up to a little scanner," said Augustinowicz.

It's also in key fobs you use at the gas station to "swipe" your information.

But that same helpful technology can also be used to gather information without your knowledge.

We're not talking about the kind of thief who lifts your wallet. We're talking about another kind of pickpocket out there.

Identity Stronghold makes plastic protective sleeves that can keep your information from getting transmitted without your permission.

Augustinowicz says electronic pickpocketing is easily done.

"Because it's a radio, you just get near someone with one of these readers, and you can actually skim off their credit card numbers, expiration dates," said Augustinowicz.

Using a ten-dollar credit card reader he bought on eBay, Augustinowicz demonstrates how it could happen.

Once skimmed, Augustinowicz says pickpockets can download your sensitive information.

But RFID experts say it's not that bad, that credit card companies usually flag fraudulent activity and require the security number on credit cards and home address as additional safeguards.

"The credit card companies basically have said, 'We understand there's a concern out there. We want to address the concern,'" said Mark Roberti, founder and editor of /*RFID Journal*/.

There is an anti-skimming law in California that makes skimming RFID cards punishable with prison time for up to a year, and a fine.

But the /*Federal Trade Commission*/ is still concerned. The agency considers the gathering of unauthorized information through RFID chips as an emerging threat.

But protect your information.

"There's always going to be two sides to this. There's the benefit and then there's the risk. And I think that's the nature of technology," said Lance Ulanoff, /*PC Magazine*/ editor-in-chief.

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