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how to block rfid chipsEvery convenience in life comes at a cost. That’s why things are so expensive at the corner store compared to the grocery store. They aren’t selling you a carton of milk, they’re selling you a way out of a mistake in not remembering to pick up your milk early at the supermarket. That kind of convenience has a readily tangible cost – more money out of your wallet. The convenience cost of other things, such as technology, might not be so readily apparent.

Take for instance RFID chips. These are Radio Frequency IDentification chips. You’ll probably be most familiar with them by seeing them on your bank cards or credit cards. These chips are being used as a replacement for the once ubiquitous magnetic stripe. By using RFID on these cards instead of the stripe, the convenience we gain is that they are less susceptible to damage, and don’t need to be run through a strip reader which has its own problems. How often have you had to run a card through three or four times per transaction? It’s a pain compared to just tapping the card reader. The RFID chips can also store more information and have that information encrypted, supposedly for your safety.

Like every new technology that comes along, intended to keep us and our information safer, there are legions of people out there willing to show is that it isn’t always safe RFID Can Be Hacked: Here's How, & What You Can Do To Stay Safe RFID Can Be Hacked: Here's How, & What You Can Do To Stay Safe How much do you know about RFID chips? Do you know how many you're carrying at any given moment? Do you know what information is stored on them? Do you know how close a hacker... Read More . Really though, what is 100% safe? Nothing – we just have to have an acceptable level of security and, for all intents and purposes, RFID tags are reasonably secure. Yet, they can still be surreptitiously read, decoded, and used in crimes against you.

You may have seen videos of people using card readers bought online to brush up against a purse or wallet, thus harvesting the information from the RFID tags inside. In fact, what you see below is an RFID reader kit, called RFIDuino. Then the person takes that harvested information to their lair of evil and decrypts information to literally make copies of your bank or credit cards. At which point the Rolex shopping spree begins and you get stuck with the tab.

how to block rfid chips

It doesn’t have to be this way. The odds of it actually happening to you in the first place are extremely slim. However if you want to protect yourself a little further, there are some very easy things you can do. Remember, the R stands for Radio, so anything that louses up your music radio’s reception is going to have a similar effect on these little things. If you want to understand how RFID chips work How Does RFID Technology Work? [Technology Explained] How Does RFID Technology Work? [Technology Explained] Read More , check out this article.

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Where Did It Go?

For people who carry a wallet in the back pocket of your pants, you can easily switch to putting it in your front pocket. This has two positive outcomes. One is that it makes it harder for someone to brush up against you with a reader. Most people react very differently when getting bumped in the groin area than getting bumped on the bum. This may be enough deterrent for most would-be thieves.

The other benefit is that it’s better for your back to not have lumpy wallets  throwing off the alignment of your spine when sitting. There are even commercially available front-pocket wallets with RFID blocking built in, like the one below.

how to block rfid signal

If you carry a purse or handbag, you may consider not keeping your bank cards in it, but perhaps in something that is going to be on your body where you will naturally have higher vigilance against contact. If you need to keep it in the handbag, keep it in the innermost compartment of your handbag, in a wallet. All the other stuff in your bag could create enough interference to stymie the card reader.

Keep in mind neither of these methods is a 100% foolproof. They only make the likelihood of the card being read much less.

What’s IN Your Wallet?

No, really, what is in your wallet? Is it just a leather or fabric wallet? These don’t lend much stopping power against radio waves. There are commercially available wallets that are lined with aluminum or other metallic foils that help interrupt radio waves. But you can get a similar effect by lining your wallet with foil. There are dozens of ways you can do this and dozens of sites that show you how. If you have a wallet that has a billfold slot, the easiest thing you can do is to insert a sheet of foil there. Once the wallet is closed everything inside is protected by the foil.

You could also get a similar effect by using an anti-static bag – you know the kind that some computer hardware is shipped in. Those are somewhat similar to a Faraday Cage. All the other methods are simply fancier variations on this.

What IS Your Wallet?

You can step it up a notch and find a metal container to store your cards in. Again, there are various manufactured ones specifically designed for this purpose, or you can re-use some other item for the job. The always-popular Altoids tin works. Some people also use cigarette tins for this purpose. You might even use a tin that was used to hold playing cards. All of those introduce a metal shell that helps defeat radio signals.

how to block rfid signal

Why Bother With RFID?

Couldn’t I just pry the darn thing off the card? I mean, I’ve already got the magnetic strip there, that should suffice.” Oh if only it was that easy.

The card is not your property. If you read your contract, I’m sure you’ll find that the cards remains the property of the bank or company that issued it. So you’d be damaging someone else’s property. You may find that doing so invalidates your card completely. However, you might want to call the card issuer and see if they will issue you a stripe-only card. They might or they might not. You won’t know until you ask.

What Will Work 100%?

Forgo the convenience of having a bank or credit card to pay for things and only carry cash. Of course, that introduces its own set of problems. But if you feel strongly enough about it, it’s not a bad way to go. Carrying only cash has a nice benefit of limiting what you spend to what you have on you and cuts back on impulse purchases.

The next closest thing is to have an actual Faraday Cage for your cards, not just some tinfoil. Faraday Cages are specifically designed mesh-like metal holders that essentially filter out certain electromagnetic frequencies and siphons them off to the ground. This means that you’d have to know what specific frequency your RFID tags operated on and have the appropriate cage for that.

You would also need a grounding strip going from the cage to the ground. It doesn’t sound very practical now does it? You’d be like one of those cars with the motion-sickness strip coming off the bumper and hitting the road. Maybe that’ll be the new fashion trend someday.

how to block rfid chips

In short, nothing will work 100% to eliminate the possibility of your RFID cards being scanned. All you can do is use or or more of the techniques above to limit the risk a little more. Also use your situational awareness. Keep an eye out for someone who just keeps bumping into people. Look for card readers that seem to have more things attached to them than they should. Don’t just hand your card over to a waiter and let them walk to the card machine with it. Treat your card like you would with cold hard cash – because it is.

I hope you feel more empowered now about the safety of your credit and debit cards. Maybe you feel  a little wiser but don’t be disheartened. People are essentially good.

If you got something from this, I’d sure like to hear about it in the comments below. It’s also a great place to share any additional stories or tips that you might have. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Image Credit: Client Card Sample via WikiCommons, RFIDuino via illustir on Flickr, Altoid tin via WikiCommons, Faraday Cage via WikiCommons

  1. durbandon
    October 10, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Has any consideration been given to producung a card wirh many RFID chips on it containing random information. could keeping it in contact with a credit card confuse the information theft?

  2. I. Harris
    September 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I live in the Dominican Republic and recently had my card cloned. The only way I found out about this is that when I went to pay for a service that I had purchased, my card was blocked. I thought this strange but carried on and two days later, tried to use it again. Again, blocked. Went to my bank and found that the card was blocked and that someone had racked up charges of almost $1700 Canadian and it was on the other side of the island. My bank told me that an investigation would be done but that they would not give me back the money, which is insured by the bank, for up to 90 days. I even went back to the bank with receipts to prove that we had not made those charges. Still no joy, I will just have to wait apparently. Cloning cards is very prevalent here on the island, so if planning a visit, use some of the suggestions in this article to safeguard your information. I certainly plan to!!

  3. joyce thomas
    September 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Thank you so much.! Almost bought a purse set on qvc..I will go but altoids for 1.00 compared to 50.00... Good info..

  4. rmebs
    August 3, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for all your tips & great info, Guy. I do have a tin which holds playing cards. Do any and ALL tins work to block readers?

    thanks.

    • Jim
      September 3, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      why bother with foil Use a hammer no marks and no work any more then use the strip on the card just like old time

  5. Vic
    June 28, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    Hi Guy,
    Any transparent material that can let your ID to be seen but at the same time be RFID blocking effective? I'm asking because of those wallets/id pouches that are made to show your ID and carry around your neck. Thanks a lot.

  6. no
    June 16, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Be cautious with certain credit card accounts. If you have a type of account that has certified cash transfers, you will need to wait until the transaction clears before you can open a fraud claim.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 21, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Interesting. I did not know that. Thank you!

  7. Jeff Thompson
    June 14, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Would not the presence of 3 or 4 RFID chips in different cards 'confuse' and unauthorized NFC reader by simultaneously giving it data from all the chips at once thereby blocking from getting any clear and useful card information?

    • Guy McDowell
      June 15, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      I think that would be a crap shoot. It would still be possible that the reader could pick up just one card.

  8. Nan Mac
    June 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I purchased a business card holder while in China. The entire case is metal. I'm now using this for my "chip" cards. I have seen these here (in the USA). Unlike the bulky RFID card cases, they are very thin and will fit easily into a pocket or wallet. Nice additional perk, they are shiny and can be used as a mirror.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 15, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      True, there are lot more options today.

  9. Abitar
    April 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Well thins are getting worse, The chips in the car suppose to make it safer. But in my option removing the human aspect from the security is a bad deal, It used the cashiers would check the card, and I had a message on my card "CHECK ID" and they would ask for it.

    Now for sake of convince, under $50 and the chip, no one even checks if your even the owner of the card!?!

    • Guy McDowell
      April 15, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Sadly true, isn't it Abitar?

      At least folks like you are aware and look out for yourselves. Good work. :)

  10. Steps
    March 19, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    How about making a wallet out of duct tape?

    • Guy McDowell
      March 30, 2016 at 12:10 am

      Duct tape or duck tape? One is an aluminum foil with a sticky back to cover holes on ventilation duct work. The other is that stuff that holds everything else together.

      Duct tape could work, but I don't think it would make a good wallet. It tears pretty easily.

      Duck tape has no metal in it, as far as I can find out, so it probably won't block radio waves.

      • GSLeadR
        April 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm

        I made a simple wallet using the colorful "duck" tape strips with a sheet of aluminum foil in between. If you do it right you can even create slots for the credit cards. I did this project as a passport holder for my Girl Scouts, but it could be made smaller to use just for credit cards too. (By the way "Duck Tape" is a brandname by "ShurTech Brands" but there are other makers of the tape such as Scotch 3M and a "Made in the USA" brand sold by Hobby Lobby that they call patterned or fashion duct tape.)

        • Guy McDowell
          April 15, 2016 at 6:01 pm

          Cool!

          Plus that clears up a few things about the duck/duct tape situation.

      • Harry Hvac
        May 13, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        Actually, duct tape is the gray stuff that holds everything together. The heavy tape that is best for sealing up your HVAC system is known as foil tape or foil mastic.

        Duck Tape is just a brand of duct tape.

        • Guy McDowell
          May 20, 2016 at 7:41 pm

          Good to know!
          I wonder why they call it duct tape when it's not supposed to go on ducts. though?

  11. Danilo Gopez
    January 9, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    How would one safely protect his/her credit card with the RFID when they use the credit card at a restaurant when one must give the waitperson the card to pay for their tab?

    • Guy McDowell
      January 9, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      You don't give the card to the waiter to take anywhere else.

      If they need to take it to the front, you go with them to the front, and then give it to them to do the transaction.

      Ever since credit cards came into being, waiters skimming cards has been an issue. Whether it was retaining the numbers and ordering stuff by mail, or having mag stripe swipers in their coat or pants. The RFID tag just gives them a few more feet of space between them and the card.

      Of course, there is no perfect protection. Check with your card issuer to see what their policy is on unauthorized purchases. Some will cover them, some may sell you insurance against that. Might be worth it.

  12. John Jankowski
    January 1, 2016 at 6:05 am

    good article. It is sobering to note that the things marketed to prevent RFIC scanning might be the wrong material for blocking the chips on the cards I have. But, it shouldn't stop us from trying to prevent illicit scanning/pirating of the info contained therein.

    It would be better to glue aluminum foil over a RFIC chip rather than to solder it since soldering aluminum requires a special solder. Then one could glue a bit of silvery mylar on top of that, and then maybe a piece of reel to reel tape. Follow this with two pieces of steel window screening and you might have something close to a faraday cage. It will also be close to ¼" thick.

    • Guy McDowell
      January 8, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      It's true that none of these solutions is 100% fool-proof. They will help though, especially with the casual scanning from a distance.

      I wouldn't recommend doing anything to the chip, though. You're likely to void your agreement with the card provider.

      Believe it or not, your card provider owns the card - not you.

  13. manager.internet
    October 29, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Removing the chip altogether sounds like the best way to go. Personally I am not afraid to say that I do not care if it violates a bank's policy - the card is a tool to access my money and my privacy and security always comes first. If any bank was actually crazy enough to push the issue, then "their property" will be destroyed by me right before they lose a customer. I would never surrender my card to anyone, bank or otherwise, as working in a bank does not disqualify a person from being a criminal. Always be suspicious of anyone who puts "policy" before your own security. My only concern is to whether or not the card will continue to work without it, and if so is their a way around this?

    Now that I have given my two cents, here is my question.. As an alternative to removing the chip, why not simply glue or solder a small piece of aluminum directly onto the chip? If it works, this seems like the easiest method. Anyone have any input?

    • Guy McDowell
      October 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      The chip fell off my wife's card and it wouldn't work with just the stripe. Yet the stripe would work when the chip was on there, at places that still only accepted the swipe stripe.

      I'm not sure if the system is programmed such that:

      IF the machine reading the card is able to read chips
      AND this card should have a chip,
      THEN don't read stripes
      ELSE read stripes.

      We didn't get a chance to try it at a place that only could read the stripe, so I'm not sure that's how it works. If it still worked at a place that only could read the stripe, then that would be the algorithm.

      • Joe Skip
        April 26, 2016 at 5:07 pm

        After four or so times that the you force swipe, the machine requires the cashier to verify the card holder and then it will accept the swipe. The chip wouldn't read once and, since I was already fed up with the extra 2-3 minutes per person checkout on an already long line, I told the cashier that I am refusing to use the chip.

  14. Ray Woodall
    June 18, 2015 at 6:53 am

    I deal with passive RFID tags for my business. We design and provide solutions to cater for our clients needs. A problem which we aim to avoid it having two or more RFID tags within the read range of the antenna being used. If this occurs we cannot read either of the tags.

    I guess my suggestion is, if you have two cards with RFID tags in them, keep them together. Run a few tests at your local supermarket when using paypass, or whatever they call it in your country when you wirelessly tap your card to make payment. If payment reliably fails, voila! You have a solution. Keep your two RFID cards together and eliminate the need to buy a special wallet or line your old wallet with foil (if that works reliably).

    Note:

    I think it would be quite likely that two credit cards orientated in the same manner, one on top of the other, would like render themselves unreadable. As for different types of cards, eg library vs credit cards, I am not so certain, as the antenna coils on the cards will be different and possibly as well as the frequencies which they were designed to pick up may also be different. But who knows, give it a try.

    • Guy McDowell
      June 18, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Excellent points.

  15. helen
    May 13, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    How can I protect my car?

    • AlienTrevalle
      December 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Have you tried bubble wrap?

    • Guy McDowell
      December 12, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      What is it you're trying to protect about your car?

  16. Marlette Louisin
    March 8, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks so much for the info! We're traveling to Europe and I was recently told about the info theirs and their scanners. Both my CC have these chips and both have had unauthorized use occur in the last 12 months. One card had it happen 3x!
    So, now, I'll carry my cards, DL etc in a metal case..my old business card case works well. Yes, it's bigger than the usual size case.

    I don't think our passports have the chip as they're 7 yrs old but I will be checking it out.

    Thanks again
    Quilting Momma

  17. Guy
    February 25, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Hey Greg,

    Glad you shared that with us. It definitely is cheap insurance.

    If a person got really industrious, they could even stitch that into the wallet, just to make it easy to get cards in and out.

  18. Greg Hudson
    February 24, 2015 at 2:17 am

    Re the anto static bags used for hard drives etc - the theory sounds good, but has anyone actually tested it ? Chances are it WILL, but better to be 100% sure.

    I have a normal wallet, and metallic pouches for the 2 cards that have chips. (eBay, $3.50 each)
    Tested this morning, and with the chip inside the pouch, the supermarket scanner could not read it. Slid it out slightly so the chip was visible, and the reader read it no worries. Much cheaper than a $50 RFID wallet, more costly than some aluminum foil - but a lot tougher. Cheap insurance

  19. Afia Blackwell
    December 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    None of my credit cards has the RFID chip, they're all still on the magnetic stripe, however, I have a passport and passport card and both of these have the RFID chip and you can be damn sure I want to protect those documents from electronic theft

  20. rosemaryk4
    July 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Guy, you never answered the question about taking out this little chip ourselves. Will it cause the card not to work? If not, what's stopping everyone from doing this? I think it's a great idea, but before I take my rfid chip out I need to know if someone else did this and if their card still worked.

    • Guy M
      July 1, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      I got my answer when the chip fell off my wife's card from use. Plain worn out. I'm not sure exactly how the card provider determines this, but swiping her card no longer worked either. She was forced to get another card.

      If your card provider doesn't enforce it through technology, they will enforce it through policy.

  21. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    March 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Should I be glad or jealous that this sort of tech doesn't exist in my country? Conventional credit card is still the way to go.

    • Guy McDowell
      March 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Overall? I'd be glad, but I'm also highly pro-privacy.

      What country? The technology will make its way there sooner or later.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        March 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm

        Indonesia. Yes, it'll be here one day. I think having known these will help me alleviating future problems as I'll be more prepared.

  22. Judith
    March 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    I have had my wallet lined with a simple piece of heavy duty aluminum cooking foil for a couple of years now. I don't know if my cards have a chip or not, but I felt better safe than sorry. I did this as soon as I found out that credit card companies and banks were going to start issueing the new cards.
    Does it work? I don't know, but how my cheaper can safety get? Couple of pennies a year for a new piece of foil if my old one tears.

    • Guy McDowell
      March 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      It will provide a degree of protection and the price is right!

      • Bill Folde
        March 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        Once foil is in place, how (or where) does one test to see if there is any escaping RFID signal (without purchasing a reader)?

        • Guy McDowell
          March 26, 2013 at 8:27 pm

          Nice pseudonym!

          Do you use the RFID chip at any store where you just have to touch it to the scanner and not insert it? That'd be the first place I'd try.

          Or if you have an RFID access card or fob for work, try it in the wallet (or protective whatever) and then try it without the wallet.

    • Fadhli Jaffar
      April 7, 2015 at 2:28 am

      You can test your wallet's security by using any smartphone with NFC. There are a handful of RFID card reader apps available. Use them to check if you can read your cards.

    • Guy
      April 8, 2015 at 12:11 am

      Fadhli, good advice! If you don't have an NFC card to read, you might be able to get one out of a magazine advertisement. I've seen these a few times in magazines like Wired.

  23. dragonmouth
    March 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I am one of those guys that wears relatively tight pants, not ones that barely cling to my gluteus maximus. I tried carrying my wallet in a front pocket. A major OUCH. Spoke with a high voice for a couple of days.

    When my last leather wallet wore out, I bought an AlumaWallet. You might have seen them advertised on late night TV. They survive submersion, being driven over by a car, etc. They are actually pretty good, although they are rather limited in their capacity. I had to winnow the cards that I do carry to about 10. That's not 10 credit cards, that's 10 pieces of plastic which includes my driver's license, library card, grocery store discount cards and credit cards. After stuffing all those cards in, there is very little room for any cash. So, in actuality it is a card holder, not a wallet. However, one unplanned for benefit of the AlumaWallet is that it is RFID scanner proof.

  24. Chris Marcoe
    March 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    When I first learned of these, I decided I can, and have been, doing everything an RFID can without it. I'll be doing my best not to get one in a credit card. Access to a front door, now that is a different story. I think they are a great idea for home automation.

    I wonder how durable the wallets are. Opening and closing all the time. Getting sat upon. Seems like any foil would degrade faster than leather. Then you would think you are protected but you wouldn't.

    • Guy McDowell
      March 26, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      You're probably right about any of the flexible foils.

      In home building, there is a fabric that has a metallic component for insulation. I wonder if that'd do the trick. Only a Faraday Cage for the appropriate wavelengths would be perfect, so everything else is some degree of being better than nothing.

  25. Kevin Liske0
    March 26, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Oops, I accidently fried the rfid chip in the microwave. Just make sure it doesn't get so hot that it scorches the passport/card/etc.

    • Guy McDowell
      March 26, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Depending on how the card issuer has it set up, your card might not work anymore.

      I don't recommend messing with government issued ID. No good can come from that.

      You may also want to be careful not to leave items that you know have RFID chips in them near your microwave.

      An NFC chip is a bit different, but I have seen an issue of Wired that had an NFC in car advertisment catch on fire sitting on top of a microwave.

    • rosemaryk4
      July 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Kevin, after putting the card in the microwave, are you still able to use it at the store?

  26. Netsanet G
    March 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    The wallet alternative seems to be the better option.

  27. Scott M
    March 26, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I don't like the idea of digital payments or credit cards.Cash only for me.I don't like high interest or going into debt.

    • Susana
      January 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Debit cards exist and are as problematic as your credit cards. And what about your car? Keyless entry anyone?

    • Guy
      January 19, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      Susana, absolutely!

      Maybe I'm just an old codger, but I think we really give up a lot personal security in the name of convenience. It all comes back to personal diligence.

  28. Nevzat A
    March 26, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Very interesting ideas, I've never thought it could be done :)

  29. Jeremy Garnett
    March 26, 2013 at 4:31 am

    I like the idea of using a cigarette tin. Best not mix them up though.

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