How Do Contactless Credit Cards Work

Visa payWave and MasterCard paypass chips are used in mostly all new debit and credit cards now, but what are they, and how do they work?

Well these chips are actually RFID chips, when combined with the RFID reader, which are in the EFTPOS machines, and sometimes standalone readers (Tap & Go, etc.) it allows wireless data transfer to occur, which is how you can pay for things without swiping or inserting your card.

What Is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, anything that communicates using radio waves needs to be able to identify and differentiate itself from other things. The first use of RFID was in the 1940's to identify and differentiate aircraft, this was what allowed the allies to determine which plane was a friend and which one was not.

Today RFID is used by the military as well as commercial aeroplanes. It is also used by countless other products, such as the remote keyless entry for your car, E-tags, passports, laptops, iPods, but the most common products that use RFID chips are mobile phones and credit cards.

How Does An RFID Chip Work?

The chip that you see on your credit card, is an RFID chip. RFID chips do not require a power source, and thus they can be made to be so small. But this also limits the distant in which they operate, in order for the chip to work, it also needs an antenna, the chip and the antenna combined make an RFID tag.

You can see the antenna in some credit cards, coming from the tag and wrapping around the outsides of your card.

How Do Contactless Credit Cards Work

The RFID tag will only work when they come into contact with an RFID reader, and there are a lot of factors which determine the distance in which the tag will still be able to be read. Things like power, frequency, antenna size, antenna pattern, plus more. Tests have shown that even with the most powerful RFID reader, the tags can only be read up to 100 metres away.

How Do Credit Card RFID Chips Work?

The chip in your credit card sends out all your credit card information, in an encrypted form, so only the right readers can see your info. Each credit card company has huge security procedures in place to stop hackers or criminals from wirelessly stealing your information, plus most of the banks have guarantees in place which protect your money, if the worst were to happen. But if you are still skeptical/paranoid, there are three things you can do.

1) Ask your bank for a card without an RFID chip.
Some banks might be able to do this, some might only issue cards with chips included, if this is the case, you can use the next steps.

2) Wrap your card in foil.
According to security experts, this is a surefire way of blocking the wireless signal, and thus stopping anyone one from stealing your information.

3) Remove the chip yourself.
If you have a see-through card, this is easier, use a knife/scalpel (BE CAREFUL!) to remove the chip. If your card is not see through this might be a little harder to do. Try googling your brand of card to see where the chip is placed.

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