How thieves steal credit info without you knowing

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Crooks call it pocket surfing or electronic pick pocketing. Other say it's crowd hacking, where credit card information can be stolen without the victim even pulling out the card to use it.

High-tech scanning devices are now being used to grab personal information from newer credit cards with embedded computer chips.  All a crook with the right equipment has to do is walk by to steal everything they need without the victim even knowing it's happening.

Chris Gilpin, a security expert with the national crime stop program, says it's all being done with something as simple as a scanner and a device to boost the power. It's the same type of technology that allows people to wave a credit card at a store with a special chip and not input any other information.

It's a quick crime. In 15 minutes while walking though a Houston mall, Gilpin was able to snatch up the credit card numbers from 39 people. It includes all the account numbers, some Personal Identification Numbers, expiration dates and codes.

Gilpin came to Channel 4's studio to show how people can be vulnerable to this crime -- especially in crowds -- and how they can protect themselves.

Gilpin says the problem is credit and debit cards with RFID chips.

"It's very convenient; very fast. However, it is a basic encryption and it can be bypassed," Gilpin said.

Criminals bypass the encryption so they are able to read the cards by walking past you.

Gilpin used to demonstrate how easy it is, but the attorney general's office has asked him to stop since it is now a felony to take credit information without people's knowledge -- even if you don't plan to use it.

Tom Stephens of the Better Business Bureau said he is aware of these electronic thieves, saying, "It's going to lead to ID theft."

One of the largest credit card processors in the country is Payment Products, a unit of Fidelity Information Systems with headquarters in Jacksonville. The company makes credit cards, some with RFID chips.

FIS Senior Vice President Bob Legters (pictured) said the system is designed for customer convenience.

"We want to make it easier for you to use your card," Legters said. "You really have to be a criminal to take a card number and turn it into a card and go out and use it as another person and turn that into money."

Gilpin is promoting a device called the Signal Vault (pictured) he invented to protect credit cards information.  But if you can't afford the $15 for his product, he said just covering credit cards in foil can foil these thieves.

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