I like contactless cards. It’s a fast way to pay in general and for amounts smaller than 20 euros, it’s even faster as I don’t have to enter my PIN. And the technology is catching on, for example, my bank offers some bracelets that can be used in a similar fashion, as well as a payment app for RFID enabled phones to be employed in those moments when your phone is already in your hand and you’re too lazy to take out your wallet (which is always in my case).
The problem with proximity-based payments that don’t require authorization is that – as their name suggests – they can be made to anyone in your proximity without your authorization. Aka having your money stolen in €19.99 chunks.
While I was aware of possible money and information theft from RFID enabled items, I was operating under the assumption that with 7+ billion people in the world, it’s not going to happen exactly to me. And fortunately, it didn’t. But I had a related problem which encouraged me to look deeper into card protection appliances.
I have 2 badges that I keep in my wallet, next to my cards. One I use to enter the gym and the other to swipe the door open at the office. I don’t take them out when I use them, I just swipe my entire wallet. And after putting my bank cards in the magnetic field of the wall mounted readers every single day for months, the magnetic strip of the card was demagnetized. Which meant that the RFID worked, I could pay contactless, but I couldn’t insert the card in any ATM and retrieve cash.
So I looked for a way to shield my cards from electromagnetic radiation, to protect them from unauthorized reads and accidental data corruption. After a quick look through Amazon, I decided to try out these RFID protector sleeves (text in Spanish).
After receiving the parcel, unboxing them and using my awesomely covered in stickers Macbook as background, I took the pictures used in this post. The package contains 12 card sleeves, 6 with openings to insert the card from the side and 6 with openings from the top. The sleeves are numbered and have different colors. The numbers are unique and go from 1 to 12, while the colors are only unique in each batch of 6 and they repeat in the other batch.
The sleeves have a thin metallic coating on the inside which acts like a Faraday cage blocking the electromagnetic signals. The coating is quite slippery and allows the card to be inserted and removed with ease.
The package also includes 2 larger sleeves that can be used for documents such as passports. Their size is only slightly larger than the size of the passport and because the cover of the passport is not as smooth as the plastic of a card, putting the passport in and getting it out was not as easy. But it can be done. I just need to make sure I take my passport out before I get to the checkpoint to avoid an awkward display of clumsiness in front of the border police officer and I’m good.