More customers say 'tap-to-pay' charged their credit card through bags, pockets

ByRenee Koury and Michael Finney KGO logo
Friday, April 21, 2023
Customers say 'tap-to-pay' charged their card through bags, pockets
More consumers are coming forward to say "tap-to-pay" readers sent radio waves into a purse or pocket, and charged their credit cards by mistake.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Many viewers have responded to a report by San Francisco's KGO-TV about a woman whose credit card was charged without her knowing it. Turns out the "tap-to-pay" terminal at Safeway had reached inside her purse and charged her credit card by mistake.

It hit home for several viewers who said the same thing happened to them, in other places. "Tap-to-pay" card readers sent radio waves into a purse or pocket, and charged viewer's credit cards by mistake.

These tap-to-pay systems are everywhere now, and millions of us are walking around with radio frequency chips in our pockets ready to be read. Several viewers told KGO that tap-enabled systems captured their credit card information at a variety of places -- a restaurant, a store, even a doctor's office. So is this going to happen more?

"What else can be grabbed out of my wallet, you know?" said Edgar Mathews of San Francisco.

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Mathews was trying to use his debit card to pay for groceries at Safeway -- but that never happened.

"I hadn't tapped it, I hadn't inserted it, I hadn't swiped it... and then all of a sudden, out comes a receipt. And I said, 'How did this get paid for?'" said Mathews.

The cashier couldn't explain it.

"She stood there just literally sort of blank and I said somebody paid for this on a credit card somewhere... and I really thought the guy in front of me, that he had been charged," said Mathews.

Mathews checked his bank accounts. Turns out, the "tap-to-pay" card reader at Safeway had ignored the debit card in his hand. Instead, it reached into Mathews's back pocket, through his wallet and charged his Bank of America credit card tucked inside.

"So that's a pretty big reach. I mean, around me or through me to my wallet. Why didn't it grab the card that was near it? How did it decide what to grab? I have no idea, they're not any better cards," said Mathews.

"I was shocked. I was like, well it can't be, I haven't taken them out of my purse yet," said Mill Valley resident Sonya Cesari.

Cesari says it happened at a doctor's office.

"I went to pay and they said, 'OK, you're already paid.' I said, 'I haven't inserted my card! I haven't even taken it out of my wallet,'" said Cesari.

Turns out the card reader there had sent radio waves into her purse and charged her credit card -- without her knowing it.

And that wasn't all.

"Three days later at a boutique in Yountville," said Cesari. She got an even bigger surprise at a little shop.

"The woman said, 'Oh my, it's just read three cards,'" said Cesari.

The store's "tap-to-pay" system charged not only one, but three credit cards tucked in a wallet inside her purse.

"I haven't taken them out of my purse yet. What are you talking about?" said Cesari. "I'd say I was two feet away at that point, for sure."

All charges were reversed, but it was troubling.

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"It could be inadvertently happening everywhere multiple times a day," said Cesari. "It makes you very uncomfortable and frightened and insecure and unsafe."

"Somebody is literally in your pocket which is very alarming," said Paul Cesari, Sonya Cesari's husband.

"I was swiping through, looking for the tip at the end," said Ace Batacan of Portland, Ore. -- a former Bay Area resident who recently relocated.

Batacan was about to pay for lunch at a restaurant.

"That's when I saw, 'Thank you for... thank you come again,'" said Batacan.

A portable pay terminal charged his card before he could swipe or tap.

"It's kind of scary in a way that that can happen. That's better than Superman with X-ray vision," said Batacan.

Batacan saw 7 On Your Side's story about Destiny M, whose card was charged at Safeway without her knowing it.

"I go, oh, wait a minute... something like this happened to me too," said Batacan.

"It was pretty interesting to have Mr. Finney's report right after that," said Paul Cesari.

"Y'all did a little story on it. I said, 'Oh, my God, that happened to me,'" said Edgar Mathews.

"The industry party line here is this is not supposed to be happening," said Ted Rossman of

Rossman says, theoretically, this can't happen.

"You know, you're not supposed to have a card charged by mistake, you're supposed to have to hold it very close to the reader," said Rossman.

Millions of credit cards now have the newer RFID technology that lets you pay by 'tapping.' A store's payment terminal will pick up the radio frequency in the card if it's tapped or at very short range -- four inches away at most.

Technology exists to read radio frequencies at long range -- but supposedly not on credit cards. But it's no comfort for these folks.

"I... left my wallet locked up in my car," said Mathews.

"I am standing back, and I'm holding my purse down," said Sonya Cesari.

So it seems some readers are reaching farther than intended. Still, many people say it can be hard to get the tap to read at all. Some folks are now buying metallic wallets that block RFID waves.