Millions of card holders are in danger of having their card details stolen electronically by thieves with smartphones equipped with special software.
An investigation has revealed that users of Barclays’s contactless credit and debit cards are in danger of having their card’s data extracted just by waving a smartphone over their wallet.
The electronic data only includes the information seen on the front of a card, and not the PIN or security code. But the data can still be used by the electronic pickpockets to buy things on shopping websites that don’t ask for the security code.
The contactless cards from Barclays have been hailed as the future of payment in the country, making it far easier to pay for things with a credit or debit card.
The technology involves a chip in the card that is held up to a card reader in shops, meaning payments can be made quickly and without having to enter a PIN.
But an investigation by Channel 4 has found that the 15 million customers who use the contactless payment technology could be at risk of electronic pick-pocketing.
“We call on the card issuers to act quickly to address this issue and to cancel and replace cards if necessary,” said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
“We have always emphasised the importance of data security in initiatives such as midata (the government initiative to give individuals access to their personal data on mobile phones and online) and this contactless payment facility clearly has some serious weakness in this regard.”
The investigation found that specially designed, simple software can be installed on a smartphone that allows thieves to simply brush their device past a person’s wallet or bag.
So far, the smartphone software has only been able to access card data for Barclays Visa cards.
“The details obtained should not be sufficient to undertake any fraudulent activity, but we do depend on retailers upholding the same high standards of security when verifying payment details,” said a Barclays spokesman.
“As a matter of urgency we are now engaging with retailers to ensure they are undertaking adequate and robust checks. We remain committed to contactless and firmly believe that it continues to be a safe and viable payment system.”
The findings of the investigation will be worrying for contactless card users with Barclays. Many of them may want to switch to a prepaid credit card, as they are safe from fraud and are not connected to any specific bank account.