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DALLAS - Thousands of travelers and consumers can fall victim to electronic pickpocketing and never even know it becausethey carrynewcredit cards and U.S. passports.

Credit cardissuers, along with the U.S. State Department, have begun installing radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in credit cards and passports because the technologyholds more datathan magnetic stripes and can be read quicker.

But, that convenience, experts warn, can also put people at risk of having their information taken.

I wouldn't walk around in public with my cards exposed like that, said Walt Augustinowicz, founder of IDStronghold. It's too easy to do.

RFIDchips are commonly found in cards used to raise gates in parking garages and unlock doors at businesses. All one has to do is simply swipe the card in front of a reader.

Within the last few years, that same technologyhas been introduced to credit cards and U.S. passports, potentially putting holders at riskof being ripped off.

It doesn't matter if the cards are kept in a walletor a purse since they can transmit through them when prompted by a RFID reader, which are for sale on eBay.

Augustinowicz saidit amounts to electronic pickpocketing.

[At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport], where you've got lots of crowds and a lot of people moving back and forth, no one is going to think anything of you walking by them with a briefcase with a higher-powered reader in it, he said.

Using free software, he showedwhat hackers when using a RFID reader on a credit card. The account number and expiration date pop up on the computer screen almost instantaneously after the reader gets within a few inches ofthe card.

The only credit cards that arevulnerable are those that allow users totap or pass a reader topay rather than swiping. Some might also have a symbol on them that indicate they transmit.

U.S. passports are harder to crack because a password is required, but hackers with the know how and correct information can seeeverything on the passport's front page, Augustinowicz said.

Every U.S. passport issued since 2006 has a RFID chip in it, along with a gold emblem with a circle in the middle at the bottom of the passport's cover.

The RFID concept is now being used so widely, it led Augustinowicz to create ID Stronghold. the company sells foil sleeves and special badge holders that prevents RFID cardsfrom being read unknowingly.

Augustinowicz'sproducts already comes with new U.S. passport cards, along with green cards.

IDStronghold, Augustinowicz said, has sold seven million protective sleeves and badge holders around the world, mostly to governments. He is now marketing his product to consumers.

No one has ever been caught trying to swipe someone's credit card without their knowledge.But, a thief could be long gone before a victim everrealized it. Independent security experts said it'sa real concern.

Definitely a threat, said Jason Lowe, who works forM&STechnologies, a computersecurity company in North Dallas that tracks emerging threats.

It's very much real, he said. It's a today technology. They're going to be incorporating this more and more, so I think there's a reason for people to worry.

But it's not just travelers and consumers who should worry, Augustinowicz said,but anyonewith government,military or even those who have port of entryIDs.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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