Shades of “Fahrenheit 451”: Identity Theft Capabilities Reach New Levels

A recent piece sent to me on-line (see video & comments here)resurrected an issue I wrote on about a year ago that in part addressed an individual’s privacy in today’s high tech society.  In that article, I wrote that “Our high tech industries have devised ways to track us as we shop to make purchases and have created devices to mark our path after we have made the purchase.”  RFIDs have the “potential for privacy invasion with regards to our shopping habits raises serious civil rights issues.”

The ability of marketers of goods and services tracing consumer buying habits has been raised to a level that futuristic fiction writers H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury would marvel over.  To achieve this ability there has to be a means to not only affect your choices (redundant radio and TV ads) but also a means to record your movements and transactions.

The technology today that aids marketers to determine what your buying habits are can also be used by criminal minds to steal your identity and damage your good credit standing for perhaps the rest of your life.  It’s referred to as radio frequency identification technology, or RFID; microscopic chips that are implanted not only  in consumer goods but on your credit cards and other ID documents you carry around with you.

According to the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility(AIM), an international trade association representing automatic identification and mobility technology solution providers, “Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a generic term that is used to describe a system that transmits the identity (in the form of a unique serial number) of an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves.

AIM’s website says the device is used all around us today.  “If you have ever chipped your pet with an ID tag, used EZPass through a toll booth, or paid for gas using SpeedPass, you’ve used RFID. In addition, RFID is increasingly used with biometric technologies for security.  Unlike ubiquitous UPC bar-code technology, RFID technology does not require contact or line of sight for communication. RFID data can be read through the human body, clothing and non-metallic materials.”

It is this last bit of information from the association that ought to catch your eye.  As you watch the newsreel video (see link above) it becomes clear that there now exists the means for hi-tech criminals to approach you in public, unaware, and scan your purse or the wallet in your hip pocket, getting your credit card information, bank account, social security and your driver’s license numbers without you even knowing it.  According to some estimates, 140 million people are at risk of having their private information hi-jacked with this technology.

You can identify your cards and documents that have the RFID chip if you see a symbol that resembles sound waves as seen here – –  in the form of four arched lines, usually found in the upper left hand corner of credit cards.  These chips can also be attached to your passport which gives access to your date of birth and a photo which a crook could use to generate other identity material to rob you with.

A quick check of my own credit cards found no RFID chip symbols on them.  But this may be more of a concern in the near future as this technology expands in our need-to-know society.  Right now experts at the Identity Theft Resource Center told WREG-TV On Your Side Investigators, who posted this story, “that they’ve never seen a case of RFID skimming used to steal information.”   This is information however that may be discredited because being able to trace such identity theft would very difficult.

The potential for such a threat is real says University of Memphis professor Mark Gillenson after watching the WREG-TV clips showing Walt Augustinowicz using the compact technology for swiping people’s credit card numbers.  Walt’s interest in this issue is a product he devised that would protect your valuables that carry private information from being scanned.  Augustinowiucz sells his products that sleeve cards, passports and other identity documents at his website Identity Stronghold.

Professor Gillenson said the video of Augustinowicz at work on the streets of Memphis was compelling and calls the scanning capabilities that robs your identity a technology run wild.  “I think people do need to be concerned and do need to be aware and we’ll see if this becomes a major problem,” Gillenson said.

Armed with this information consumers should always be cognizant of people around them when they shop.  Anytime you are out and about with your wallet or purse, check your  credit card website daily to make sure no unauthorized purchases have been made.  It would also be wise to take only those credit cards and identity information you need to make certain purchases with you when you go to the mall or super-market.  If they do have the symbol for RFID chips, a purchase from Identity Stronghold or a similar entrepreneur may be a wise investment.

4 responses to “Shades of “Fahrenheit 451”: Identity Theft Capabilities Reach New Levels

  1. This is a sad commentary on society. I don’t think people are any less honest, I think the dishonest of today now have more tools at their disposal. It’s very discouraging. Good article.

  2. You’ve provided possibly the best article to date – in laymans terms – summing up the challenges ahead for us. Superb work.

    At some point you may wish to visit my blog( it should be clear that I’ve spent a good deal of time researching the ‘leakiness’ of RFID enabled devices; or to what extent our new ‘contactless’ bank cards / ID passes can be skimmed. There is certainly evidence that in respect of e-travel passes such as London’s Oyster Card (1st generation), and it’s equivalent in Europe (Holland) there were problems with data being intercepted.

    However, that was then (circa 2006) and this is now (2011)!

    The issue I have with Walt Augustinowicz video, showing him at work on the streets of Memphis, is that we never get to see the information that is reportedly being ‘skimmed’ by his reader.

    Until Walt shows us categorical ‘proof of concept’ then the banking industry will be fully justified in making their bold claims that there is NO problem here.

    Let’s see the screen Walt! Come on, you know you have to do it some time…

  3. Cheers Larry

    Glad you found my blog useful, and thanks also for adding it to your roll – much appreciated!

    PS: it’s always good to meet someone who has actually read Ray Bradbury’s book – I was begining to think his story would only be passed down to the next generation by way of oral history 😉

    keep up the good work.


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