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THE mind-boggling advances in wireless technology has ushered in great wonders to the world.

Like any good discoveries that are benefiting humanity as a whole, some of these inventions, in the hands of crooks, could be used to victimize unsuspecting people.

The criminal act could be so subtle and surreptitious that unless we are aware of the possibility of such a covert strategy, we won’t even know what hit us till much too late.

Did you know that thieves can now buy an $8 RFID (Radio-Frequency ID) reader and steal your credit card or passport data without you even knowing it?

If you have credit cards or passport with RFID, all the perpetrator has to do is to come very close to you holding his RFID reader almost touching your purse or wallet, and bingo!, all your credit card and/or passport data are instantaneously transferred to their laptop computer, or possibly to their android or 4G cell phone.

The RFID reader is similar to the bar code scanners used in store checkout counters, or at airport gates to scan boarding passes.

Criminals no longer have to steal your wallet or runaway with ladies’ purses.

The thieves are now high tech and sophisticated.

They now steal by electronic pick-pocketing.

The victims only discover what happened when they receive their credit card statement from their bank, or a notice from the government that someone tried to use their passport.

For the past year or so, I have been locking and unlocking my car manually, either with my key or the keypad on the hand console by the door.

I no longer use my remote control to lock or unlock my car.

There is an electronic gadget available that could be used to “copy” the electronic impulse or sound wave from a remote control key as it is clicked in a parking area.

The person with the gadget could be several yards away or in a car nearby.

Once you have left the vicinity, the thief can easily unlock and steal items you left in your car and your car stereo.

Worst, the person could hide behind your seat and surprise you.

Another sensor criminals use is one that could detect the electronic wave when you click your hand-held garage door opener.

This will give them access to your home.

ATM skimming is popular fraud.

There was a time when thieves simply attached a small camera by the ATM units to videotape credit card data, including the PIN.

Today, they want a much larger loot, so they get data from dozens of credit cards and consolidate them to be able to make much larger withdrawals.

Only about 30 percent to 40 percent of credit cards have RFID chip in them, and those without the chip are obviously safe from RFID readers.

To be sure, check with your issuing bank.

One way to disable the RFID chip, and still be able to use your card, is to look for the RFID chip by putting your card against a bright lamp, and puncture a hole thru it, with a large nail and a hammer, or a drill.

But it would be better to get a credit card without an RFID chip.

What I have done to protect my credit cards, driver’s license, and passport was to improvise.

It is easy to do.

Get two business cards, or cut two pieces of cardboard no thicker than your credit card.

Put the two pieces end to end, with 1/4 of an inch space between them, on top of a foot of aluminum foil.

Roll-wrap them “as one” in 3 layers of aluminum foil all around them, providing six layers of protection on either side.

The credit cards and driver’s license, will be sandwiched between these two when they are put back in the wallet or purse.

Do the same for the passport.

Simple, practically free and effective.

There are now vendors selling RFID protector sleeves or wallets on the Internet.

Some of them use aluminum foil, others, thin metals, like stainless steel sheets.

The government and banks are now well aware of electronic fraud and are finding ways to foil crooks.

Hackers and scammers can also gain access to your personal data in your laptop when you connect to the Internet in public places.

The gravest is identity theft, which could ruin one’s life.

Here are some helpful tips:

1. If you have RFID credit cards, driver’s license, passport, etc., buy RFID shields or improvise RFID blockers using aluminum foil.

2. Each family member using the same credit card account must inform the others as to their purchases, amount and date.

3. Thoroughly check your monthly credit card statements and ATM account; or call the customer service number printed at the back of the credit card to obtain purchases and balance updates.

4. When you get a call from “your bank,” get the name and position of the caller and say you would call back later. Dial the customer service number at the back of the credit card to confirm.

5. Power off the garage door opener, especially at night or before going out of town. With the electrical switch off, the remote opener will not work.

6. It is more secure not to use remote control to unlock or lock the car.

7. Do not open and immediately trash all e-mails sent by people you do not recognize, no matter how tempting the subject might be.

8. When you receive an e-mail from a familiar name telling you a sob story of being robbed of his wallet, stranded overseas penniless, and requesting you to send money, call and talk to your friend or relative to confirm. Chances are this is a fraudulent e-mail, using a familiar e-mail address to victimize you.

9. Never give out your username or PIN or password, or key code to anyone, even if the call is from “your bank.” Bank personnel and online vendor clerks are prohibited from asking for such confidential data.

10. When you receive an e-mail which states you won in a lottery, or millions of dollars are awaiting transfer to your bank account, trash it right away. Do not even send a reply, otherwise you will only be giving them, and confirming, your e-mail address.

11. When e-mailing, it is more secure for everyone concerned to use the BCC, instead of the Send or CC when typing down the e-mail address(es) of your contact(s).

12. Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites are dangerous sites to post private matters, personal and financial data. They are not secure sites.

Constant awareness, vigilance, carefulness, and common sense are the most effective anti-fraud, anti-theft “tools” we have at our disposal.

A bit of “healthy paranoia” might also keep us more on our toes.

***

Facebook: Philip S. Chua

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