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Over the holiday break I took a trip up to Lake Placid with the family, and for a New Yorker that can’t afford a parking space, let alone a car, this means getting a rental. So I discovered that Avis just started something new: It’s offering an E-ZPass device mounted on every rental. Finally, I get to take the fast lane through tolls! At first, I thought that Avis had negotiated some special rate and was offering to pay my tolls for free. Not so. I was quickly billed $11.10 for my time on the New York State thruway, and the charge went straight to the credit card I used to rent the car. At least, it should have.
Turns out the charge, listed as “8004820159 HWY TOL” on my online statement, confused the folks at Citibank so much they put a fraud hold on my credit card. The company gave me a courtesy call, but it was to my home phone. A message I would get much too late to spare me the indignity of having my card declined at dinner. No, really, honey, I did pay the bill on time.
When I called Citibank, they knew about the charge. They also knew about dinner. And both of my attempts to buy gas at a pump on the way back. (When was the last time you went inside the station to buy gas?) Every swipe was there, and I had to approve each one. Even the time charge for the rental balance, which was just 15 minutes old when I made the call.
Having a sales rep know so much about you is disconcerting, but this has happened to all of us. I have written a lot about the RFID payment systems and have caused a lot of discontent among privacy advocates. Yes, RFID tokens will be hacked. (Although I still, haven’t gotten proof that anyone has broken the PayPass system yet.) Thing is, plastic gets hacked all the time. In this case, my card wasn’t hacked so much as the payment system malfunctioned. The E-ZPass was supposed to make my ride smoother–and eliminate traffic congestion–but ended up embarrassing me and forcing me to call customer service to remove the hold.
It is easy to point to an RFID token and say it is insecure, but insecurity surrounds us. Credit cards companies profile everyone and buy and sell that data with near impunity. And there is nothing you can do about it. Not without some new legislation, anyway. Why worry about hackers brushing up against you in Grand Central and cloning your token, when it is the plastic card in your wallet, and the system it connects to, that is the biggest threat?
That and those damn E-ZPass readers.
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