Are Contactless Cards at Risk From Cybercrime? Here’s 5 Ways to Stay Safe

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Using credit cards and digital wallets instead of cash has numerous advantages, ranging from improved cleanliness to greater flexibility and theft protection.

Cash transactions in the UK have declined by 20% in the past ten years according to a study conducted by Merchant Machine, and the pandemic has forced many businesses to go cashless in order to help protect staff and customers from the virus, meaning different payment methods have had to be used.

However, utilising cards rather than cash has drawbacks – such as the risk of cybercrime. The United Kingdom has one of the greatest search volumes for cybercrime-related keywords, with an average of 17,510 searches per month over the last year, according to research, with Ireland and France ranking first and second.

With the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England it is more likely that we will be in busier locations, increasing the exposure and chance of cards and digital wallets being exploited. Thieves in crowds can easily obtain contactless cards or stand close to your wallet and use an electronic RFID-equipped terminal.

To help protect people against fraud, Merchant Machine has compiled some top tips to safeguard contactless cards and digital wallets.

Buy an RFID-Blocking Wallet

To complete a purchase, contactless payment cards communicate wirelessly with card readers using short-range Radio Frequency Identification, also known as RFID. You should constantly be aware of where your wallet is, but few of us are alert enough to detect when someone skims your cards too closely, which may mean they’re scanning them maliciously. You can, however, buy dedicated wallets to keep your cards safe. While some myths and individuals propose wrapping your cards in tin foil, this would only be a temporary solution. An RFID-blocking wallet, which resembles a metal case with a variety of folders inside, is your best chance as they block the radio signals between a card reader and the RFID chip in your card, helping prevent malicious scanning.

Set up a notification whenever a payment is made

Most online banking apps or mobile phone banking services allow you to set up notifications when a payment is made, or to send you mini-statements on a specific day. If you set up these notifications, you’ll be alerted of any payments, even if you didn’t authorise them. Check with your bank or banking provider if you’re unsure how to do this.

Check your transactions

It’s a good idea to go over your recent transactions on a regular basis. Checking your bank statements will allow you to see any unexpected activity and alert your bank if necessary. If you feel your security has been compromised, contact your bank right away to revoke your card(s), reverse any fraudulent transactions and keep track of your account activity. You’ll be able to tell immediately whether there are any purchases you’re unfamiliar with. Unusual behaviour is one of the first signs that a hacker has gained access to your account.

Password protect your phone and use different passwords for different accounts

As your phone also functions as a wallet, it’s important to safeguard it with a PIN or password. You should treat your digital wallet the same way you would a physical card. Using a strong password is one of the best ways to safeguard your phone and the information stored on it. Don’t forget about the many security measures that today’s phones have to offer, including facial recognition, iris scan, and fingerprint unlock are even more secure than a password or PIN. Use multiple logins for different digital wallet accounts so that if one of your passwords is hacked, it doesn’t affect the rest of your data.

Scott Nelson a financial services expert, and CEO of MoneyNerd Ltd, comments: ‘The same way it is advised to never leave your wallet somewhere unsafe, you should always protect your digital wallet with safeguards. If there are locks you can put on your digital wallet or for your contactless cards, utilize those, but use a different number lock than your regular phone or card pin so that it’s not easy access. Another safety measure with card pins and password, is to never use common dates (like birthdays) or numbers associated with addresses etc. The less associated the number is with you or your assets, the less likely it is to be guessed.’’

Update your software when prompted

If your software and apps are not up to date it makes it easier for hackers to target you and exploit your personal information. Make sure you understand how your phone and digital wallets work so you can keep your software up to date. This is also true for your individual apps: update them whenever a new version is released.

Ian Wright, founder of the Merchant Machine explains the importance of being aware of scams:

‘With the increase in digitalisation, especially after the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to protect our wallets from potential attacks. Although using credit cards is generally safer than using cash for transactions, there are a few precautions card users should be aware of when using credit cards or managing e-money.

A good way to protect yourself from fraud is to secure all your online and offline data by hiding passwords and shredding documents containing confidential information. Checking your statements is another good way to keep track of each payment and identify any possible scams.‘

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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