Hackers & Pickpockets: Are You Safe Going Cashless?

Dayton Uttinger  | 

As the journey for a completely cashless society continues, most of us are focused on how exactly we’ll make everyday transactions. How quickly will my favorite mom and pop shop accept Apple Pay?  Will I still need a wallet? When can I deposit all the emergency money I have in that shoebox? These are all important questions, but the push for a cashless world has revolutionized one area in ways you might not expect: crime.

Now, obviously, we all know about the rise of hackers and how they have more nefarious opportunities as the world goes digital. But more traditional crimes are often overlooked. Criminals that rely on us carrying cash have been forced to change tactics or completely disappear. Conventional wisdom tells us to be wary of cash-grabbing criminals, but when we don’t have cash, do we still need caution?

Crimes You Don’t Need to Worry About

While wearing fanny packs and consistently checking your pockets may make you feel better, the truth is that pickpocketing in the US is almost non-existent these days. For one thing, if we’re carrying less and less cash, it becomes harder for pickpockets to make a living, or even a profitable side hustle.  Stealing credit cards is always an option, but those are easily traced once they’re reported. Then the card is cancelled, and the thief will have to ditch it quickly.  

Pickpockets also have no way of knowing how much spending power is left on your card. Your checking account might already be overdrawn, or you might only be $10 away from your limit on your credit card. It’s a lot of risk to take for an unknown reward, whereas a pickpocket knows immediately whether or not their lift was worth it when they see cash.

The alternative is to hang out around places where they know marks will have cash on them, like around ATM machines, but this makes them easier to pick out, especially since law enforcement has effectively dismantled the pickpocketing network. Due to increased punishments, more experienced pickpockets have had less opportunity to pass on their skill, so that younger ones are caught more often or just discouraged. This isn’t the case in Europe, so if you’re traveling abroad, keep your wits about you, but that’s the only time your fanny pack should make an appearance.

Pickpocketing is the best example of how the digital age has changed the crime landscape, but other traditional offenses have been affected as well, just perhaps not to the same extreme. Banks are more and more sophisticated with their crime prevention. They have cameras, guards, alarms, marked bills, exploding dye packs… And the tactics of the robber haven’t fully caught up.  The same goes for house, convenience store, and casino robberies as well. Of course there are some Ocean’s 11-style heists out there, but they’re hardly the norm. In fact, the average thief in the US gains a measly $1,200, hardly worth risking years of prison for. Obviously don’t leave out valuable items for the taking, but the fact is that technology is only getting better at catching and deterring robbers. Most bank robbers are caught the day of their crime. Furthermore, home security systems are becoming more evolved and affordable. Burglars need to take extra precaution as well, all for a payout that is not worth the risk, frankly.

Crimes that You Should Fear

Given that the thief somehow has stolen your credit card, forging your signature is ridiculously easy. The fact is that many cashiers don’t check your signature against the one on the purchasing slip, and even if you write “See ID,” most will neglect to ask you for that as well. Furthermore, many terminals are self-operated now, so the slim chance that someone will ever compare the signatures is completely removed if the thief opts for self-checkout while using your stolen card.   

We now have sophisticated, unique codes tied to every transaction, making stealing credit card information digitally that much more difficult, but some still rely on their signature to protect them. Next time you’re purchasing something on your card, sign your name with your non-dominant hand, draw a smiley face, or just write out a special message to your bank. See if anyone ever contacts you about it (they won’t). Unless you dispute the charge yourself, no one will ever examine your signature. Therefore, the only real protection from this is to be aware of all your cards and check your statements frequently.

Additionally, counterfeiting has been around as long as money has, and it isn’t going to stop now. Most places still accept cash, and the means required to create fake money physically are more accessible than those necessary to create it digitally. For now, it’ll likely stick around. Unfortunately, accepting counterfeit money is a headache in itself, so you need to be wary of suspicious bills. You can memorize the signs of authenticity, but that might seem impossible. Standard tricks of holding the bill up the light or using special color-changing ink are good standbys for detecting many current counterfeiting methods, but this is one area where criminals have kept up with technology. Higher-performing printers are becoming more and more common, making counterfeit bills more difficult  to detect. However, as more and more of the world moves to mobile checkout and online retail, counterfeiting physical money becomes less of a problem. Paper currency might never completely disappear, but the issues surrounding counterfeiting diminish as digital currency becomes dominant.

Technology has affected all facets of our lives, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that crime has been changed too. However, what is likely more surprising is that the landscape has changed so much that there are some crimes that we don’t have to worry about anymore. Just like bootleggers were out of a job after the end of Prohibition, the world has changed enough that criminals could not keep up with it all. It just doesn’t make practical sense to pickpocket or rob banks anymore, not with the risk so high and the rewards so low.  

On the other hand, we’ve seen that technology has paved the way for other crimes. Identity theft will never be the same, but hacking can be used for both good and bad. Digital theft isn’t only to gain access to your money, but to your credit as well. Malicious hackers aren’t just limited to the funds in your bank account, but instead to all the money you could borrow, a much larger haul. This sort of theft is a lot more lucrative than more classic crimes. Unfortunately, this means that the protections of the past don’t always apply in the modern world, but we’ve come up with new solutions as well. You don’t have to constantly check your pockets anymore, but you do have to frequently check your online banking statements. It’s a tit for tat, an exchange that will undoubtedly evolve indefinitely.

Still worried about credit card security? Find more guides at our credit card resource center.


Image sourcehttps://pixabay.com/

Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.

This post was updated December 13, 2017. It was originally published June 8, 2017.