By Police Officer Larry Jacobs

Local area police are warning residents of a new scam that stems from high-tech credit cards. Some credit cards now have a radio frequency identification chip that allows you to wave the card in front of a scanner to speed up your purchases.

In response, criminals are purchasing small, portable readers from the Internet to steal credit card information by simply walking near someone. However, consumers can purchase protective “sleeves” to shield credit card information from would-be thieves.

The information that’s being passed on by local police comes from Clark Howard, a well-known Atlanta consumer advocate.

According to Howard, millions of Americans have credit cards equipped with radio identification chips for easy use. (Ask your bank if your card is equipped with such a device.)

An estimated 98 percent of people who walk around with radio frequency identification cards don’t know they have them. An estimated 100 million such cards are in circulation.

While the cards are easily read by scanners, a Florida reporter recently showed how easily criminals can take advantage of the convenience. Using a credit-card scanner attached to a battery pack, the reporter was able to gain access to credit card numbers merely by walking past people.

It’s a crime described as “electronic pick pocketing.”

An expert in the technology said someone with a scanner merely needed to get close to someone’s back pocket to read credit card numbers, the card’s expiration date and all the tracking data needed to misuse the card.

So what should you do? You can for very little money buy a protective sleeve to encase the card. Howard suggests that it’s reasonable to call your credit card company and ask for one for free.

Remember, though, if your card number is compromised and used fraudulently, you won’t be out the money, according to the rules of most financial institutions. But you will have a lot of hassle and paperwork to endure as a result.

Larry Jacobs is an officer in the crime prevention unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at