But that doesn't mean you need one. RFID-blocking wallets are designed to help insulate you from a very particular brand of electronic pickpocketing, called RFID skimming. The concern is that some credit cards, passports, and driver's licenses now come with embedded radio frequency identification chips.
Is it necessary
Q: Are RFID blocking wallets worthwhile or are they just smoke and mirrors?
A: It’s not all smoke and mirrors. RFID is a real thing, and RFID-blocking wallets do block it—but the question is “does it matter”? We weren’t able to find any credible reports of actual, real-world RFID identity or credit card theft. It may be happening—it would be very hard to precisely identify if it were—but it’s certainly not widespread. It makes for a nifty demonstration by a hacker, butas Snopes notes, in 2010 the Identity Theft Resource Center had never seen a case—and it still doesn’t recommend RFID protection. Slate also notes that modern RFID chips generate single-use codes, and if your card is used fraudulently, your bank should back you up.
Plus, the majority of credit cards used in the USA don’t even have RFID chips. Chase Bank and Bank of America, for instance, don’t offer any RFID credit cards right now (at least that we could find). Most bank cards are now relying on chip-and-sign EMV technology, rather than just waving your card near a reader. Apple and Android do have their own popular wireless payment systems, but they wouldn’t be protected by an RFID blocking wallet anyway. It is worth noting, however, that if you get a Global Entry card, it comes in a foil-lined sleeve, which would suggest the government is at least a little worried about it.
But that also doesn’t mean RFID-blocking wallets are bad—if you find a wallet you like that has it, it doesn’t make it a worse wallet. I’m partial to Articulate Wallets, which have RFID blocking built in. But if you use a tap card to pay for public transit, like a Clipper or Oyster card, chances are it won’t work behind an RFID shield.
All of this is not to say credit card and identity theft aren’t an issue, but you’re far more likely to be affected by a card skimmer at an ATM, or a breach of a major retailer like Target or Sony. And you’re better served by keeping an eye on your monthly bank statements for odd activity—which is how I found someone buying grow lights from AliExpress with my credit card.
RFID blocking wallets, sleeves, and other products offer protection against RFID skimming. The problem isn't that these products don't work, it's that they're a solution to a problem that doesn't exist in the real world. RFID-related crime isn't only very unlikely, it's non-existent.
It happens every Christmas. My friends, knowing my long-time career in computer security, can’t wait to show me how smart they were for buying RFID wallets, purses, and even jeans and jackets. What they don’t know, unless they read this, is that it’s a complete waste of money.