Have you ever wondered what RFID is and why you may be interested in a RFID blocking wallet? To help demystify it I’ve put together some demos and answers to the most common questions that we hear. You won’t have a physics degree by the end but you’ll be able to explain why building passes work in most RFID blocking wallets while payment and ID cards don’t!

Do you need a RFID Blocking Wallet?

The short answer is that it’s probably a good idea to have RFID blocking in order to secure your data, especially if you carry a contactless ID or payment card in your wallet. And most building access cards will work through a RFID protected wallet, so you can still do the butt bump to get in.

What’s the risk of payment or identity theft with RFID cards?

Basically, you’ve got these cards that can be used without taking them out of your wallet, which is convenient... the only trouble is that other people can also read the information without you realizing it. It’s kind of like pickpocketing but someone can get a higher powered reader so it works from further away… and potentially get your payment or ID information by walking by.

The thing that changed my mind a bit was when almost all government IDs such as passports, Green Cards, and military IDs began to have RFID built in. And they usually even come in an RFID blocking pouch and recommend keeping them in it. I don’t really care that much if someone gets my credit card info but identity theft is a whole other deal.

So it seems to be one of those things that’s possible yet fairly unlikely. It's more prevalent in urban areas and outside of the US. But if it does happen to an ID card, the impact could be huge. But it’s also something that’s super easy to prevent with a simple feature of a wallet.

Does the RFID protection make the wallet thicker?

For some wallets it does, but not for SlimFold wallets. The RFID blocking layer super thin so you can’t tell the difference if I handed you 2 wallets… one with and one without.

How do RFID cards work?

As you may already know, RFID stands for Radio Frequency IDentification and it allows digital information to be transmitted from a item, such as a card, to a reader. It’s basically used any time there’s something you can tap and it beeps such as credit cards, transit passes, and building door readers.

Credit cards with RFID capability built in will have a little symbol that usually looks like a WiFi sign facing right. Some people think the metal chips are what does the RFID, but that’s a different thing. That’s to ensure the card is present since it’s harder to duplicate than just copying the magnetic strip to a blank card which is super simple.

The RFID in the card is just a loop of metal inside and the reader gets the information on the card by applying an electric field through the loop, which energizes the card by induction (if you recall your physics classes). Incidentally, this is also how gates at garages and stoplights know a car is driving up… but at a bigger scale. There’s a big loop of wire embedded in the concrete and it detects when a car interrupts the electric field. Look for these loops etched into streets and you’ll notice them EVERYWHERE.

How does a RFID blocking wallet protect a card?

OK, so if you want to block the RFID signals, the thing you need to do is place something between the reader and the card which prevents it from transmitting data. Like metal. By putting the card inside this RFID blocking wallet with metal shielding, the card can’t be read.

Will my building access badge work through a RFID blocking wallet?
Building access cards work the same way, but usually with a much lower frequency. While ID and payment cards operate at 13.56 MHZ, building access cards usually operate at 125Khz. This lower frequency travels through things more easily… and is the reason you can hear the bass of a car’s subwoofer but not the highs. The highs are blocked but the bass notes travel through the car.

Now, there are also ways to block these low frequencies but they require additional thickness. And for most folks, this is the best of both worlds… where ID and payment information is blocked yet they can still access their building smoothly. Or like the places I used to work where it seemed like I had to badge in every 10 feet!

Will my transit train or bus pass work through a RFID blocking wallet?

Most transit passes also work at the same higher frequency as payment and ID cards so they usually won’t work when inside a RFID blocking wallet. One thing you can do is keep them in a card slot and they usually work when opening a wallet up and tapping that pass directly on the reader.

Should you choose a wallet that blocks RFID?

Ultimately the choice is up to each person which is why we offer both RFID blocking wallets and non-RFID blocking.

Several years ago we went from having a few customers request it, to several telling me they had had credit cards stolen this way. So we started to provide the option and now the majority of wallets we sell are RFID protected.

I hope this helps you understand RFID a bit better and helps you decide whether to choose a wallet that blocks it or not. Let me know if there’s any other questions you have about RFID or anything else.