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Does Aluminum Foil Stop Identity Theft?

DIY hacks are a dime a dozen when it comes to making life easier, but protecting your identity requires more than wrapping your cards in foil.

The internet is full of helpful hacks and DIY tips to make life easier (and cheaper), but as it is with any information spread via the world-wide web, some ideas are just plain misleading.  One common search hack is aluminum foil and its ability to block RFID scanning machines.  Not to foil your plans for making your own RFID-blocking wallet, but it’s not as guaranteed at protecting your cards as you think. 

Here’s what you need to know about aluminum foil and what it actually does if you cover your credit cards with it.

RFID Cards vs. Traditional Magnetic Stripes

Before we explore the aluminum foil hack, it’s important to understand which card it actually applies to.  Most modern cards have RFID capabilities.  RFID, or radio frequency identification, are “smart cards” that do not require a magnetic strip to be read.  Users just need to brush them up next to a credit card reader and it processes the payment request. Because these cards are able to be scanned at any time, this is where some have looked into the aluminum foil hack to protect their cards without investing in an RFID-blocking wallet.

Magnetic stripe cards, or “magstripe” cards are still the most commonly used form of payment by many card holders. The data along the magstripe is encoded with your personal information, which is then decoded by a card reader to process payment.

Does Aluminum Foil Protect Your Cards?

Confirming or busting this DIY hack really depends on the card you are using.  A quick search about the foil/card protection subject focuses on RFID cards, which are still not as commonly used as magstripe cards.  Some sources say that if you actually have an RFID-enabled credit card, aluminum foil does the same job, if not better, than an expensive RFID-blocking sleeve.  Other sources say that aluminum foil does not block RFID, only merely inhibits it, meaning it only prevents reading the information from long distances.  This may offer some comfort for smart card users, but it doesn’t seem to be a foolproof protection method.  This, of course, does not apply to traditional magstripe-type credit cards, as they are not capable of being read unless swiped at the point of sale.

How To Protect Yourself If You Use RFID-enabled Cards

For guaranteed protection, there are easier ways than using up your aluminum foil.  It’s reported that Tyvek credit card sleeves are inexpensive, and they have the ability to block RFID signals.  You can make these yourself with Tyvek material, or you can buy them already made in the size of a credit card.

At the end of the day, the best protection comes in the form of diligence.  Simply watching your account could be your best measure of protection.  You could be a victim of identity theft, whether you’re using an RFID-enabled card or a traditional magstripe card.  The best DIY protection is keeping an eye on your accounts, securing your cards in a sturdy wallet, carrying them only when absolutely necessary, and shopping at trusted merchants, both online and offline.

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