Contactless credit card popularity soars during pandemic, but stay vigilant for scammers

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, September 11, 2020
Contactless credit card popularity soars during pandemic, but stay vigilant for scammers
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the popularity of contactless credit cards to skyrocket, but you should stay vigilant for scammers.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Contactless credit cards have become an extremely popular way to pay during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to industry experts. The technology allows you to wave your credit and debit cards over a device and pay without touching anything at the register. But consumers should still be vigilant for scammers.

Banks said the use of contactless payment options have surged 150% since March. If you have a card with a little WiFi symbol on it, that means you have the technology.

"There's been a huge uptick in the past four or five months as you might imagine. People liked using it, now it's, you have to touch less contactless to still make a payment," said Don Bush of Chargebacks 911.

Bush said scammers are also counting on more people using these cards. They could have devices which can read the signal from your credit or debit card.

"There's some fraud risk in it because it does have that little antenna that emits a radio frequency," he explained "There are folks out there that can use an app on their phone, or a scanner device that if you don't protect that card, and they walk up next to you they might be able to get that information just like they're a point of sale terminal. It's pretty simple."

In 2015 tech experts from Chicago's Trustwave showed the I-Team how special equipment, close to a consumer, could read the signal and retrieve the numbers and expiration date.

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Back then, it could have allowed for scammers to clone the entire card. Now the scammers who are near you may only able to recreate a one-time payment transaction with a device.

"You just need to get close enough to the transmission of the card," said Bruno Oliveira of Trustwave.

However, tech experts at Trustwave said the scam transaction is likely be under a $100 dollars, which is usually the limit for a contactless transaction.

The industry group which manages contactless transactions, EMVco, said while "it is technically possible to capture certain limited transaction data elements from an EMV contactless an experimental setting, it is difficult for a fraudster to execute or scale in reality."

Security experts say you should still be vigilant. Beware of people who are close to you and may have a card-reading device. Make sure you're reading your online credit card statements regularly and report fraud if you see it.

You can also leave your cards at home and add them to a smartphone wallet, which does not emit a signal from the card until you verify with a fingerprint of face ID

You can also get an RFID blocker.

"There is this little jacket it's got almost like a aluminum foil, for lack of a better term, inside of it. That takes that device's transmission and locks it. So somebody walks by with one of those devices they can't see. It's that simple," Bush explained.

The contactless payments industry group added that "unique cryptoprograms" are used to prevent fraudsters from using data on cards. They also reminded consumers that other security layers mitigate the risks. For example there are transaction limits at point of sale terminals.