Credit card numbers are sacred these days. We never give them out to strangers because credit card fraud and stolen identities are only one mistake away.
But what if someone could steal your credit card information just by standing next to you?
It’s possible if you carry a credit card with an embedded RFID chip. RFID credit cards let you make payments by touching the card to a scanner rather than swiping across or inserting into a terminal. They’re designed for convenience.
Now imagine if someone walked up to you and “scanned” the wallet in your back pocket without you realizing. Theoretically, they could copy the RFID data and create a clone of your credit card—unless your card is protected by an RFID-blocking wallet.
How Do RFID-Blocking Wallets Work?
People have been concerned about RFID chips for many years now, and not just in credit cards. All US passports issued after 2006 have RFID chips that track your photo and information. Metro cards have RFID chips for quick swiping, and dogs are implanted with RFID chips for tracking.
RFID chips work by using radio waves to communicate. The object, such as a credit card, contains an RFID tag with information, and an RFID reader uses radio waves to read the information off that tag.
The key is that RFID chips have tiny electromagnetic fields, which is what makes it possible to read one without having to “initiate” communications. The RFID reader just needs to be close enough to get within the field.
That’s why, in theory, somebody could scan a card through your pocket. And yes, people in the real world have been scanned like this. Check out this anecdote on Reddit to see what kind of headache can result from RFID hackers.
Fortunately, radio waves are relatively easy to interrupt and block, and that’s how an RFID-blocking wallet works. They encase your credit cards in a material that interferes with radio waves. If the wallet is properly constructed as a Faraday cage, it will block all electromagnetic fields and prevent communication between your cards and RFID scanners.
But do YOU actually need an RFID-blocking wallet? Probably not. If your credit cards don’t have RFID chips, then obviously you don’t need one. And even if you do have RFID-chipped cards, the chance of being maliciously scanned is exceedingly low—less than 1 percent according to some.
On the other hand, the possibility is always there and the chance is non-zero.
You May Not Need a Brand-New Wallet
It all comes down to how risk-tolerant you are. If you’re willing to pay for peace of mind, then go ahead and buy an RFID-blocking wallet. Peace of mind can be priceless, after all.
But if you’re a penny-pincher, or if you don’t think the risk is worth worrying about, feel free to pass these wallets over. Then again, you can always cheaply protect your cards using your current wallet with an RFID-blocking sleeve.
These RFID-blocking wallet sleeves by Alpine Rivers are extremely affordable and well worth the value. You get 12 card sleeves and three passport protectors for the price of two Starbucks coffees. Just slip your card into a sleeve, then slip the sleeve into your wallet—and they come with a 365-day money-back guarantee.
The 5 Best RFID-Blocking Wallets
The downside to using RFID-blocking sleeves is that they add bulk to your wallet, which is annoying if you like minimal clutter and thickness. Plus, sleeves are ugly if they don’t match your wallet design, and some believe that sleeves don’t provide enough RFID protection to be worthwhile.
In that case, an RFID-blocking wallet may actually be what you need. Here are some of the best ones you can get right now.
I can think of no better company for affordable-yet-luxury leather goods than Saddleback Leather. In addition to wallets, they make the highest-quality bags, belts, book covers, phone cases, purses, totes, and more.
Despite the expensive price, there’s a reason why so many are satisfied with Saddleback Leather products: they’re built to last and backed by a 100-year warranty.
The Saddleback Passport Wallet comes with an internal RFID shield and is big enough to house one passport and two credit cards, plus it has a full-sized cash compartment. If you travel often, this is the perfect option. Who wants to get scanned while overseas? Nobody!
The Big Skinny Slimline Wallet is one of the most notable RFID-blocking wallets, mainly because bifold RFID-blocking wallets are surprisingly rare. Made from durable nylon microfiber, this wallet is extremely light and will last you many years before falling apart, even under heavy physical day-to-day abuse.
And it’s spacious, too. It has a full-sized pocket for bills, four main card pockets, two more hidden card pockets, and a plastic pocket for an ID card. The product can hold up to 25 separate cards, but that seems excessive—we recommend no more than 10.
The Trayvax Original Wallet is a weird-looking one, almost dangerous in a way. It comes with a built-in bottle opener, and is a good choice for anyone who doesn’t want a conventional-style wallet. Best of all, it’s made in the US!
This wallet is made with stainless steel and aluminum plates, and can hold up to 14 credit cards. It even has a mil-spec paracord that offers true security—it won’t break. And it’s backed by a lifetime warranty.
The Sharkk Rugged Wallet has a compact design, but don’t think it’s slim or light. It’s a rugged beast, and sacrifices a bit of compactness in order to make that possible. This wallet is a card case with a complete enclosure, providing maximum protection against scanners and physical damage.
The card case’s design means that the Sharkk wallet is high-grade waterproof. Just be careful when carrying cash, because the cash band is on the exterior of the case. The case has enough interior space to carry up to seven cards, which should be more than enough for most folks.
The Radix One Black Steel wallet is the cheapest RFID-blocking wallet that we feel comfortable recommending. Not only is it more affordable than most regular wallets, and not only is it effective as an RFID blocker, but it looks great and takes up very little space.
It’s a slim wallet, so you should only consider it if you have fewer than five cards to carry around. (Yes, it’s fitted for between four and 10 cards, but there’s no point in getting a slim wallet if you’re going to fatten it up with that many cards!) It’s solidly built with quality materials and worth every penny.
Why Use RFID When You Can Use NFC?
Because RFID technology is insecure, we recommend you avoid using it as a contactless payment method if at all possible. This is especially true when better alternatives exist: Google Pay and Apple Pay, accepted at many stores, serve the same purpose but are built on NFC technology instead.
And whether you use RFID-chipped credit cards or not, it’s important to know the warning signs of digital identity theft so you’re never caught off guard.