How safe is the pound, dollar or euro in your pocket?


As you go about your daily business, you probably don’t give much thought to the safety of your money. After all, it’s safe in your pocket- isn’t it? Well, no it isn’t.

What’s more, it is no use checking to see if your wallet is still there. It will be. And if you look inside, all your cash and credit cards, in fact everything, is still where you put them. So, you are safe, your pocket has not been picked. Relief.

Whoa, not so fast. What about that guy who bumped into you? Ok, he didn’t ‘lift’ your wallet but wasn’t his contact with you a little uncomfortable, maybe a bit longer than you thought necessary? If so, you might just have fallen victim to the latest hi-tech street crime – charging fake sales to your contact less credit or debit card.

Such cards are now being issued as a matter of routine as a service of customers, with the supposed advantage of making purchasing easier. But it has also opened the way for a whole new type of theft. Have you got a card with the ability to be used to make payments without contact with a shop’s card machine? If so, you could be at risk if travelling on busy buses and trains or simply walking down a street crowded with people.

The cards work by bringing it close to the card reader. They do not have to make contact and you don’t have to enter your PIN nor sign anything. True, contactless payments have a low limit, it’s £30 in the UK, but that’s not the point. Theft is still theft.

The story of one victim has been told in a computer security magazine, for whom he works, coincidentally. Its community manager says that £20 was stolen from him by using contactless technology to make a fake charge to his card.

Roi Perez told SC Magazine that a man bumped into him and stole the money. As soon as he could, says Mr Perez, he contacted his bank and reported the incident. The bank checked his account and found the £20 transaction. It has since been refunded by his bank, he said.

The fact that someone’s details can be stolen from a contactless card and used to make payments online has been public knowledge for some months, but this incident appears to be the first known time that money has been taken from a card, just as it would be in a shop. The possibility of the theft of a person’s details was uncovered by an investigation by consumer magazine Which? published in July 2015. Amazingly, one researcher managed to gain enough details from a card to use them to order a £3,000 television online.

Whatever bright spark thought up the idea of contactless cards, obviously not enough thought was given to security. However, all is not lost as it seems there is something we can do to protect ourselves. The simplest and cheapest method being to line our wallets or purses with kitchen foil, the sort you use to wrap your turkey. Apparently, this prevents any contactless reading. And there are also special wallets now on sale that are claimed to prevent such data thefts.

On the other hand, has paranoia set in? Certain experts think so and say that the most information that a thief could obtain is your name, the card number and its expiry date and that, they claim, is not enough to buy anything.

That’s ok then, the story cannot be true, we are worrying too much. Or are we? There is at least one major online retailer that does not ask for the three figure security number on the back of the card and even the Which? researcher managed to order that £3,000 television.

To check if you have any contactless cards, just look at them. Any that have the symbol shown in the picture, above, are contactless.

Perhaps the worriers are paranoid but, as one saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.


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