HOUSTON – It could just be the scariest high-tech crime out there right now. It involves thieves stealing your credit card information without ever touching you, or your wallet -- it's called electronic pick-pocketing, or crowd hacking.
It works like this: If you have a "chipped" credit card -- a card with a radio-frequency identification computer chip inside -- that chip can be scanned at stores and restaurants, like McDonald's for example. There are currently 250 million chipped cards in use in the U.S.
But now, high-tech thieves are using much more powerful versions of those scanners, devices they can buy online for under $100 and are using them to steal your credit card information right through the air.
"These thieves can walk by you at a shopping mall and steal your credit card information right out of your purse or wallet from up to 25 feet away, and you won't even know it," said Chris Gilpin, with the National Crime Stop Program.
Local 2 Investigates decided to test that technology. With Gilpin's help, Local 2 watched as Gilpin walked through a very popular Houston shopping mall and captured credit card numbers from 39 people in less than 15 minutes.
Of course, Local 2 destroyed all of that information almost immediately, so it couldn't be used against anyone; Local 2 was just testing the technology. The point is it can be done and is being done by thieves who have mastered this criminal idea.
So how can you protect yourself from these "pocket-surfers," as Gilpin calls them?
With a new device called "Signal Vault," developed by Gilpin and his company, it looks just like an ordinary plastic credit card, but it forms an electronic safety shield around all of the credit and debit cards in your wallet.
"It's like a bulletproof vest for your credit cards," Gilpin said.
The Signal Vault sells for under $15 and is available on the Internet. You can find it by Googling "Signal Vault." You can also protect your chipped credit cards by using an aluminum wallet, or simply wrap your credit cards in aluminum foil.