CHS grad hopes to stop identity theft

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By Marty Gordon

Christiansburg High School graduate Emerson Wooge has invented and is marketing a device to make identity theft more difficult.

A ScanBlock product hopes to help stop the theft of credit card information.

Wooge’s invention is a blocking card called ScanBlock. It deflects and weakens the radio signals used to transfer the data for common Radio Frequency Identification (RIFD) devices such as hotel keys, driver’s licenses, passports, and credit/debit cards.

While RIFD devices are convenient and are a part of practically everyone’s daily lives, they are susceptible to identity theft through what is called “skimming.” A thief uses a card reader to grab personal data while an RIFD transaction is being made. The thief need only be within a few feet of the card being used, so he need not have the card in his hand. Items like Wooge’s ScanBlock prevent the card reading.

As cyber criminals find it easier to access consumer data, identity theft in the United States continues to rise. More than 791 million identities were stolen in 2016. Putting a price tag on credit card fraud is not that easy, but several credit report companies say losses have topped $24 million each year since 2016.

This summer, the Christiansburg police department received several reports of strangers following individuals around at retailers in our area. They were never apprehended but were suspected of using a card reader to grab shoppers’ personal information.

Skimming is a sneaky tactic, and criminals can even duplicate your credit card once they gain the information. According to cybersecurity research company Javelin Strategy, approximately 37 percent of all credit card fraud in the U.S. is related to counterfeit cards.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking cards are one of the newest methods to protect individuals from having their personal information stolen via these RFID devices.

“I’m sure people may have seen RFID wallets or sleeves,” Wooge said. “ I think the cards are definitely the most interesting and convenient form. Manufacturers are working on strengthening the blocking ability and the slimness of cards,” Wooge said.

Wooge graduated from CHS in 2007 and Roanoke College in 2012 with a BS in Mathematics and a Concentration in Statistics. He has traveled a good bit for work, and personally has had his card stolen a few times.

“I think almost everyone has at some point,” Woodge said. “After I believe the second time my cards were stolen, I purchased some RFID blocking sleeves. I had been interested in developing my own product/starting a business and was researching the RFID sleeves when I stumbled upon the cards. I thought this was a unique, interesting product and decided to go for it.”.

Javelin Strategy estimates there is a new identity theft victim every two seconds with most of the incidents involving credit cards. Javelin’s research reveals about 46 percent of all Americans have had their personal information compromised at some point in the past five years.

Not all RFID devices operate on the same frequency. Many low frequency FOBs operate on 125 kHz signals whereas credit/debit cards operate on 13.56 mHz signals. Blocking cards such as Wooge’s are designed to protect the contactless transfer of data at that frequency for RFID devices.

The cards operate from a chipped blocking module, which is a newer design. They also protect RFID devices within a 4 cm radius / 8 cm diameter when positioned correctly, meaning the majority of the credit/debit card/ RFID device is directly in front or behind the blocking card.

Wooge believes as RFID payments become more popular and convenient, more individuals will have their information stolen. “We see the contactless payment at more and more business, and I think it’s only going to get bigger,” Wooge said.

In the short term, Wooge would like to continue to improve upon ScanBlock to include advertising and packaging. He is also interested in new developments for the technology as he would like to provide the best available to his customers.

Right now, the only place to purchase ScanBlock is through Amazon.

While you might have a ScanBlock card or other measure, credit report companies say the most successful way to deal with fraud is to regularly check your personal credit reports themselves.