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Contactless card theft: how to safeguard your data from a counterfeit reader

Near field communication (NFC) has revolutionised the way we pay. However, it also means our contactless cards provide a more accessible route to our bank details. While these advances have made life easier for us, they've also made life easier for those looking to discover such information. Here's what you need to know about contactless theft and how to avoid it. 

Contactless theft: how it happens

A reporter at SC Magazine recently stood a little too close to a fraudulent card reader for a little too long, resulting in £20 disappearing from their bank account. The culprit was armed with a merchant account reader, a product you can easily buy from Costco, and simply pressed it against the writer. Unlike traditional thefts, this attack could easily have gone unnoticed – especially on packed public transport.

Earlier in 2015 Which? found that it's surprisingly easy to steal details from contactless cards. Although they're designed to hide personal data and have a spending limit of £30, the watchdog gleaned enough information to go on an online shopping spree worth £3,000.

Potential risks

Data tampering is another risk of NFC. It's possible to scramble or destroy the data being transferred between two devices – while that doesn't necessarily have financial repercussions, it's certainly frustrating. Data interception is difficult, but also possible, and is a way to steal sensitive information (such as card details) being transferred between two devices. 

Ways to avoid it

The good news is that you don't need to stop using contactless cards. With 58 million of them in the UK the fraud rate is currently less than 1p in every £100 – lower than traditional card fraud. But of course, it's still worth taking some precautions. For a suitably techy solution, look out for RFID-blocking wallets. These stop scanners (like the ones used by Which?) from picking up your card details. An even simpler fix is to line your existing wallet with tin foil, which can effectively stop communication with card readers.

We're always looking for new ways to help you keep your money safe. Keep track of any developments with our regular blogs, and find out about international money transfer security with our 101 guide. 

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