Is 'contactless card machine train bump' the new pickpocketing?

The above photo captures a man, supposedly on the tube in London, holding a contactless card machine. It was posted in the Facebook group "Shit London", by a man who claimed he saw the scammer at work.

Facebooker R Jarvis claims he saw the alleged ‘scammer’ working the tube:

"So this guy was spotted wandering round with a Point of Sale (POS) device. All he has to do is key in a price less than £30 and then touch the device on the pocket that contains your wallet."

"I’ve actually shown people this using the NFC function on my mobile to read their card data through their wallet to freak them out but this is the first time I’ve seen someone doing it for real. Time to invest in a screened wallet I guess…"

It's led to widespread warnings on Facebook and the news, asking people to beware of people bumping into you on the trains, for fear that it's a scammer charging £30 to your card (the maximum that can be charged on point of sale devices), rather than a commuter pushing you out the way and trying to get a goddamn seat for once.

So should you fear people bumping into you on the tube?

Probably not. You should be far more scared of mole people.

Despite headlines of "Contactless card theft: Users warned to watch out for 'digital pickpockets" from the Independent and "Use a contactless bank card? Watch out for thieves bumping against you on trains" from the Metro (a terrifying thing to read from a newspaper you only find on a train) the scam does not seem to be commonplace in the UK.

The UK Cards Association says that point of sale crimes haven't been widely reported in the UK, and that there are stringent security checks on merchant accounts. Sales from terminals such as this would flag up as suspicious, and the card machine would be disabled extremely quickly, even if the scam was much more widespread it is.

If someone bumps into you on the train it's almost certainly not because someone is stealing up to £30 from you. It's because the train company has packed far too many people on the train. National Rail is stealing from you, not scammers carrying point of sale devices.

Hacker forums selling point of sale devices

This doesn't mean, however, that the scam doesn't exist. Hacker forums on the dark web do sell customised versions of point of sale terminals, designed to clone people's cards (meaning they can take much more than £30).

Cloned card fraud does take place in the UK, but has consistently fallen every year since 2007 as banks get better at tackling it. Even if you do get targeted by this kind of scam, your bank will likely cover the cost to you, as they are insured against it.

The UK Cards Association also pointed out that the image might not even be from the UK. They say it doesn’t seem to show a British train, and that the same image has been seen in reports of the same crime in Russia.

So for now, stop fearing the "new pickpocketing", don't worry about little orphan Oliver with his Point of Sale device, and start fearing the real dangers of train journeys: Disgusting germs fired out of strangers' faces, massive delays, and the mole people who haunt the tube at night.

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