iPhone 5 Could Set Us Up for Identity Theft

Maressa Brown

iphonesImagine this: You're at Target, and you'd like to know what care package items your daughter -- who we'll say is at college -- would like you to send her. You pull out your iPhone 5 (because this hypothetical scenario is taking place in the future, likely post-summer 2011), so you can FaceTime to show her various options. When it comes time to check out, there's no digging around for your wallet and handing off of cash or swiping of plastic. Nope, you just tap your iPhone 5 to settle the charge.

Because your credit card info is already in there.

Apple insiders told The New York Times yesterday that this is an illustration of the very near future. There's zero confirmation on whether this technology will definitely premiere with the iPhone 5, but "a coming iteration of the Apple iPhone" will have a chip for the phone’s processor that will also include near-field communication technology, known as N.F.C.

In short, N.F.C. will enable short-range wireless communications between the phone and an N.F.C. reader -- in order to process mobile payments.

According to The Times:

One person familiar with the new Apple feature said the phone’s credit card information would be tied to information currently used on iTunes, which would make it simple for customers to set up the new mobile payment method on the iPhone.

This is the part where I get in a time machine and jet back to a simpler time. (Perhaps November 5, 1955?!)

No, but seriously, I'm a little perturbed by this development, aren't you? I guess if iTunes already has your credit card info stored, you already trust the process of paying digitally. But what freaks me out is that when your info is transferred via wireless communication to a merchant for a purchase, there's a DEFINITE possibility that an identity thief could intervene during the transaction and hijack your credit card information.

And now I'm starting to sound like my boyfriend who is paranoid about paying bills online and makes a point to hook up his laptop to the ethernet cable before doing so, because he doesn't trust our password-protected Wi-Fi. Even though I give him a hard time about that, he does have a point. It's probably extra-smart and safe to do any kind of identity-sensitive transaction from the ethernet connection.

Because similarly, I'm really not comfortable with the fact that I now have a credit card that has a chip in it that gives off radio-waves in order to make transactions swifter by waving it within a few inches of an RDIF (radio frequency identification) terminal. You probably have one, too -- they've been around since 2005, and you can only tell if you spy a very subtle little radio signal icon on the card. It's been proven that thieves can rip off your personal info and commit identity theft by "reading" these cards with a gadget that costs no more than $100.

So who is to say that having all of that info in your N.F.C.-enabled cell phone (and it's not just Apple -- Google wants it in Android phones, Windows wants it in their phones, etc.) won't make you just or doubly as vulnerable? 

Personally, I have absolutely no problem with reaching for my purse, getting a chance to show off my cute Kate Spade wallet, pulling out my debit card, and swiping it or handing it off to a cashier. How long does that really take in the scheme of things? And think about this: If some sly identity thief swipes your info while you're oh-so-quickly paying for that Starbucks drink via N.F.C., you're going to be spending a whole lot more time cleaning up a credit/identity mess than it would have taken to pay in an "old-school" way for the latte.

Then again, maybe several years from now, cash and credit cards will be a thing of the past, and this will sound silly. But I bet I'll still wish for a time when my credit card info wasn't running rampant through the air.

Does it freak you out to have your credit cards giving off identity-coded radio waves? Would you feel safe paying for store transactions with your cell phone?


Image via Yutaka Tsutano/Flickr

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