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    Washington Post: Credit card safety at 30,000 feet

    The Washington Post reports that there can be questions about the privacy and security of individuals’ credit card data when using such cards on airplanes:

    Travelers are easy prey for “carders,” who take illegal credit card impressions in a crime called cloning or skimming. Airline passengers [...] may feel extra vulnerable, because on a plane, plastic is often the only payment option for beverages, meals or duty-free items. (Airlines euphemistically call it a “cashless environment.”) [...]

    [T]wo bigger questions for air travelers who want to buy something on board: Is it safe? And is there a way to protect your card?

    Here’s the bottom line: Fraud can take place anywhere, even at cruising altitude, and no protection measures are airtight.

    Could a flight attendant moonlight as a carder? You bet, says John Sileo, an expert in digital privacy. The gadgets used to perpetrate these crimes are small enough to be concealed in a pocket. “There are skimming devices that are only slightly larger than a matchbox,” he says. “I’ve seen waiters hold the check folio in such a way that they hide a skimmer and are able to skim the credit card while standing at the table.” [...]

    “Once the thief has the credit or debit card data, he or she can place orders over the phone or online,” says data-security expert Robert Siciliano. But thieves can also copy that data onto blank cards, which are called “white” cards. The plastic can even be dressed up to look like a legitimate card, he said.

    Such data theft creates a massive money drain. The most frequently cited statistic is a 2010 U.S. Secret Service estimate that skimming is an $8-billion-a-year problem. (It includes ATM skimming, which, as the name implies, happens when you use your credit or debit card at an automatic teller machine.) [...]

    Experts say that the only long-term fix is to tighten security on credit cards by requiring PINs and using security chips that are far more difficult to copy. But American credit card companies have been slow to embrace such changes, citing higher costs and downplaying the security risks.

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