Contactless bank card fraud a growing threat

Scammers might have found a new way to target Kiwis - using their contactless bank cards.

Contactless fraud is now the fasting growing area of card fraud in the UK, and it could spread here.

Contactless cards allow consumers to 'tap and go' when making purchases, instead of entering pin numbers.

But the chip-enabled cards are already a target for hackers overseas, and one expert says it's only a matter of time before it happens here.

"I would give you 10-to-one odds that this is going to come to New Zealand," Andrew Colarik told Newshub. "And when it hits it will be large."

The scam has allowed fraudsters in the UK to reap whirlwind profits, taking a staggering £14 million (NZ$27 million) in contactless card scams last year.

Contactless bank cards contain security chips which emit a radio signal. All fraudsters need to do is to buy a point of sale scanner on the internet - then they can pick up the signal from your card, and steal the details.

In a study published in the Journal of Engineering in 2013, University of Surrey scientists announced they had "successfully received contactless transmission from distances of 18 to 31 inches".

This would allow scammers to 'digital pickpocketing' people just by walking by them.

"You could put it in your car and literally just drive nice and slow along the sidewalk, and there it is," says Mr Colarik.

The chief cashier of the Bank of England warns that scammers are using this system to take money off your card when you walk past.

"I do hear stories of friends - this is a personal anecdote, this isn't the official bank view - whose money has been taken off contactless when you walk past something," Victoria Cleland told the Daily Mail.

"It's only up to £30. So I use cash for lower transactions anyway and for big ones contactless wouldn't work."

In New Zealand, customers can spend up to $80 in one contactless transaction.

However stealing cash off someone's bank card isn't the only problem.

An app exists which allows smartphones to be used as a contactless card, and read other cards.

There are fears criminals are using these technologies to skim card details. These are then used to create fake cards and make fraudulent purchases.

And there are fears protections for Kiwi consumers could be lessened if banks get their way.

In January, Consumer NZ said it's concerned a proposed new banking code of practice will no longer have a key protection for bank clients.

The current code says banks will reimburse the victims of genuine fraud.

But the draft code, which the New Zealand Bankers Association proposed in June 2017, plans to scrap that principle and instead give banks the freedom to set their own policies regarding fraud reimbursement.

An unpleasant thought as scammers up the ante.