[Dave Birch corrected] Well, this is what this old story seems to imply. Apparently criminals in Reading never rob people for cash, which can’t be traced, but will rob people for contactless payment cards that can be used for under ten pound transactions without a PIN (like cash) but can be traced (unlike cash). The report says that Reading town centre inspector John Relph thinks that shoppers’ convenience (from contactless cards) could lead to increased fraud. He says

I can’t believe banks are making fraud this easy. Without a PIN number there will be no identification verification process, therefore making it easy for the criminal to use. It will make our job in the town centre harder because there’s a strong probability that fraud will be increased.

Well, if contactless cards do cause an increase in fraud, the police will know where to look for the perps. Steve Wilmott, Head of the Economic Crime Unit for the City of London Police, says that one of the key trends in financial fraud is that a decade ago a tenth of fraud cases involved a bank insider whereas its’ now 40%.

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While disorganised crime might steal the odd contactless card to use to buy a coffee, organised crime will have bigger fish to fry. Look at the recent inditement of the “Western Express” gang. The Manhattan District Attorney has indicted 17 individuals and one corporation on multi-million dollar fraud charges related to global trafficking in stolen credit card numbers, cybercrime and identity theft. Note the useful data point in the report:

The District Attorney’s office alleges that the Group is responsible for over $4 million worth of identified credit card fraud, and trafficked in well over 95,000 stolen credit card numbers.

So that’s about $4 million for about 100K stolen card numbers, so that makes the stolen cards number responsible for (as Ian Grigg correctly calculated and I didn’t) $40 each. So what is each stolen card number worth to a criminal: a quarter of that? I’m not familiar with criminal underworld but surely stolen goods trade at a substantial discount to their “face value”. Let’s say the numbers are worth $10 each. It seems to me that if I do snatch your bag and steal your contactless card, I’m much better off selling it someone who wants to use it for a decent fraud than buying a couple of coffees and a doughnut with it.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. my calculator comes with 3 less extra zeros, I make it $40 per card.
    [Dave Birch] What a blunder: I’ve corrected it. Memo to self: stop typing blogs late at night when very tired.

  2. I’ve an idea-very simple one-about these conspiracy theories over contactless cards and their security:
    People are worried, because it is NEW! in the payment/banking area. People are using their re-loadable ticket/passes for years and nobody is worried about their money on the card, and it will be gone when they lost their wallet within it. And guess what, you can lose more than 10 GBP. Around the world there is more fraud cases built on ATM, CNP infrastrucure than other payment tools and it will remain the same. Because it is definitely more profitable. But people are still using them. Maybe these days are like the very first days of ATMs

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