DIY RFID shielding to maybe help protect you as you travel

Thinking of RFID-shielding?
As I prepared to travel in 2011, and through 2013, I read that people can easily purchase a RFID-reading machine and then pick up your credit card info from inside your pocket, luggage, or handbag. Honestly, I have no first-hand proof that they can. Nor do I have proof that they cannot.

In 2014, when I mentioned this to people in Eastern Europe, they knew nothing about this issue. Not locals and not fellow travelers from Russia.

BUT… Knowing it was a possibility, I opted to not take a chance.

Frankly, though, I thought that every RFID-shielding wallet, card holder, or whatever was absurd. Insane prices. Too heavy for travel. Impractical design for travel.

So I looked into creating my own shielding for my chip and strip-containing cards.

RFID = Radio Frequency IDentification
RFID chips are the chips in your plastic cards & one is in your passport as well.

From what I read, mylar or aluminum foil act to shield our cards from these card readers. I looked into buying mylar or comic book protector sleeves of that silvery plastic.

Power Plus brand aluminum foil tape

Power Plus brand aluminum foil tape

Then, in 2013, I found this…
This is aluminum foil tape. It’s a very thin, very sticky aluminum foil used for things such as seal segments of that wide silver vent tube that comes out of your clothes dryer.

There are many brands available. I got lucky finding this one at the 99¢-Only Store, a popular chain in the LA area. I’m sure this at ACE Hardware or other hardware shops as well.

They say that aluminum foil, being metallic, helps interrupt radio waves.

I cannot promise you this tape is actually RFID-shielding and will shield your cards. However, it appears to prevent scanning of RFID cards from all but very close range. (Here’s someone’s responsible experiment and my own experiment is below.)

I’d wondered if it would be extra secure by using mylar and then wrapping the mylar in the aluminum foil tape but never had the need to try.

Making my RFID-shielding credit card sleeve

The other ingredient of my credit card sleeve was one of the card sleeves your bank will give you to protect your bank card or credit card.

The new one in the photo below is just a paper sleeve. The better kind is of Tyvek which is what I actually used. (I had one from Chase Bank.)

All I needed to do was use a scissor to cut clean strips a bit more than double the length of the card sleeve, then peel the foil’s backing off and press lay the foil over the sleeve. I tucked it under the open edge a bit. That edge needed a bit of trimming to make it smooth. As my tape wasn’t as wide as the sleeve you’ll see the overlapped area on my real-life sleeve, below.

This sleeve, by the way, has been in my wallet holding my cards since June 2014 — over two years! As you can see, it has held up very well. [Update summer 2017: It’s still holding my cards.]

Testing my RFID-shielding credit card sleeve

I took my credit card sleeve to a Los Angeles Metro station and got permission to try some tests. The Metro official tapped my encased metro card on his machine and, happily, it didn’t register. Not face up and not face down. Removing it from my aluminum foil sleeve, the card read perfectly well as normal.

Creating my RFID-shielding passport sleeve

Passport case being wrapped in aluminum foil tape

Wrapping passport case with aluminum foil tape.

In 2011, I’d found a beautiful, simple clear plastic passport cover. 

In the interest of security, I also taped this aluminum foil tape over that nice clear.

This image shows the work in progress. I continued by wrapping two more strips to cover the entire case.

I didn’t love hiding my beautiful passport but I did like knowing I might be protecting myself from identity theft. Over time I had some fun with its decor as you see above in one past version.

The only thing bad about this case was that at passport control stations, the authorities need you to remove your passport from the sleeve for scanning.

I was able to use this for 3 years althrough my sleeve (not the foil) started to split.

Commercial options

On the lookout for a good, not cumbersome, but affordable sleeve at the 2017 International Travel Goods Show, I found Lewis N. Clark’s $4.99 3-pack of RFID-Blocking Shields for credit cards and Passport Shield. So, in 2017 I started traveling with these for my cards, although I also brought my good old foil card case along. As my own sleeve tore more due to passport use, I finally retired my own sleeve, option to use Lewis N. Clark’s $5 passport sleeve.

UPDATED — 2019 final paragraphs

Do we need this?

In 2017, this article, Why you don’t need an RFID-blocking wallet, was published at CSO from IDG. The author, Roger A. Grimes, says we don’t and explains in detail. And frankly, every major vendor I spoke to about the threat and RFID-blocking products in 2017 said the same thing. I asked why they sell these wallets and products and the reply was the same in each conversation: because people want them. I don”t know…

So it seems likely that you can save yoour money to spend on something fun on your travels. But if you can find some of this foil, you might want to make your own sleeves — just in case. And $5 isn’t a lot to spend for a just-in-case.

Since I still have my roll of foil and my Lewis N. Clark sleeves remain in good shape into 2019, my sleeves are still going with me.

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