Ask A Nerd: Why Do I Need An RFID-Blocking Wallet?

Wallets didn’t used to be so complicated – you just had a few styles and materials to choose. These days there’s hard case wallets, phone wallets, and now a new contender in the mix worth noting – the RFID blocking wallet.

These wallets claim to block identity theft by blocking RFID signals – but what are RFID signals and how do they work?

What is RFID?

Let’s start with the basics first – RFID stands for “Radio Frequency Identification”, much like a barcode or a magnetic strip on a card it uses a chip as a unique identifier for a particular object. Much like barcodes, they need to be scanned in order to read the information in the chip. Scanners can scan RFID within a certain range, up to several feet. RFID tags can come in many forms – stickers, cards, key fobs, etc.

RFID requires 3 parts: a scanning antenna, a transceiver, and a transponder. What does that mean? The antenna puts out radio frequencies, which not only read for the transponder, but also provide energy for it. Transponders contain tags that are programmed and scannable. Tags don’t require batteries, because the scanning antenna pings the tag, which wakes up the chip to be read – which is pretty awesome. Never worry about charging an RFID chip. The antenna also contains a transceiver that decodes the scanned data collected from tags.

A huge benefit to RFID technology is ease of scanning. Barcodes can often be hard to scan, and magnetic strips can become worn and difficult to read – raise your hand if you’ve ever put a card through the washer/dryer – the magnetic strip is pretty much toast after that. Barcodes can become discolored, hard to find, bent, or any number of other issues.

RFID technology has been used for many common practices – keeping track of pets, building access, and anti-theft tags in retail stores. All of which you’ve probably seen or experienced. One RFID technology that has become popular is credit cards. Many credit cards have RFID chips in them that can allow for contactless transactions, meant to make our lives easier. The problem with this? Your credit card information can be at risk, and no one like identity theft.

With RFID, everything is invisible, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for a rogue identity thief with a scanner to get close enough to your wallet, scan your credits cards and potentially have access to your banking information. Unlike ATM phishing schemes, RFID doesn’t require your card to be swiped, or even be visible. Now you could spend time watching videos on YouTube of people scanning cards in public places with ease, cancel your bank account, stuff all your money into a mattress, and never leave the house, but that seems extreme. Luckily there’s alternative ways to protect yourself.

RFID-Blocking Wallets

Now while most credit card companies today have said that your cards are protected against these attacks, there is still a risk of your information being grabbed. Is there anything that can block RFID? Or is it an unstoppable force and we’re all doomed? Luckily there’s a lot of ways to block RFID signals and keep your cards safe until you need to use them. The most basic form of RFID blocking is probably already sitting in your kitchen – aluminum foil! Wrap your cards in foil, and block RFID signals, easy as that. However, unless you’re trying to start a new trend, foil might just not be your style. If that’s the case, there are more stylish options available – RFID-blocking wallets. These wallets look just like your average pocket organizer, but have a sewn-in lining that contains materials that block pesky RFID scanners unless the cards are taken out of the wallet.

Different wallets have different kinds of materials but all of them will block RFID to some extent – and why not be stylish AND protected? In case you feel like retiring your old battered wallet for something a bit more stylish, here’s some options: