Trackable cash in your pocket?

I hadn’t heard about it becoming official, but if the following story is true then it appears that the U.S. Government has started inserting RFID tags into paper money. If you’ve not heard about RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, it’s a relatively new technology developed ostensibly to help stores prevent theft and track what was purchased, but it could be used to track just about anything including how much cash you have in your purse or wallet when you walk into a store.

Talk of embedding RFID tags in currency aren’t anything new as the European Union has been talking about adding them to Euro bank notes for over a year now, but I’ve yet to hear of any plans by the U.S. Government to make use of the technology in American money so far and that makes the following article a bit surprising.

RFID Tags in New US Notes Explode When You Try to Microwave Them

Want to share an event with you, that we experienced this evening.. Dave had over $1000 dollars in his back pocket (in his wallet). New twenties were the lion share of the bills in his wallet. We walked into a truck stop/travel plaza and they have those new electronic monitors that are supposed to say if you are stealing something. But through every monitor, Dave set it off. He did not have anything to purchase in his hands or pockets. After numerous times of setting off these monitors, a person approached Dave with a ‘wand’ to swipe why he was setting off the monitors.

Believe it or not, it was his ‘wallet’. That is according to the minimum wage employees working at the truck stop! We then walked across the street to a store and purchased aluminum foil. We then wrapped our cash in foil and went thru the same monitors. No monitor went off.
We could have left it at that, but we have also paid attention to the European Union and the ‘rfid’ tracking devices placed in their money, and the blatant bragging of Walmart and many corporations of using ‘rfid’ electronics on every marketable item by the year 2005.

Dave and I have brainstormed the fact that most items can be ‘microwaved’ to fry the ‘rfid’ chip, thus elimination of tracking by our government.

So we chose to ‘microwave’ our cash, over $1000 in twenties in a stack, not spread out on a carasoul. Do you know what exploded on American money?? The right eye of Andrew Jackson on the new twenty, every bill was uniform in it’s burning… Isnt that interesting?

It’s entirely possible this story isn’t true or is blowing things out of proportion and it’s also true that while things such as scanning how much money you have on you without your knowledge are possible, it doesn’t mean systems are in place already to do so. Still, if it’s true it’s rather discomforting to think this was slipped in without any public notification.

Update: Checking the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s homepage about the new $20 bill I couldn’t find anything that directly confirms or denies the presence of RFID in the money. Though I did find the following blurb that sounded close to it on this page describing the money’s security features:

    Also, a machine-readable feature has been incorporated for the blind. It will facilitate development of convenient scanning devices that could identify the denomination of the note.

11 thoughts on “Trackable cash in your pocket?

  1. Comments on slashdot regard this as a nutcase who packed a wad of money in a microwave and turned it on for far too long.  Metal in the ink heats up and starts a smoldering fire, which burns through the stack.

    Relevant quote regarding the sensor:  Many of these systems operate by sensing the presence of multiple leaves of magnetic material, much like you would get from stack of the new 20s. So it’s all that unlikely. One of the failings of the systems is that occasionally, non-nefarious objects resonate in the sensor field and false-trigger it. Coils of wire set off some of the systems; a close arrangement of magnetizable material sets off others.

    The whole rfid thing seems like paranoia.  “The government is tracking us!  Buy more aluminum foil!”

  2. This guy thinks black helicopters are following him around.

    Seriously, the guy’s money caught fire because he put it in an oven.  Money is basically printed on cheap cloth, and it will absorb a certain amount of moisture, especially if you’re carrying it around in your pocket.  Anything with moisture will get really, really hot in a microwave.  That’s what microwaves are for.

    The interesting thing about this “conspiracy” theory is that currency already is uniquely identifiable.  There’s a unique serial number printed right on the front, in two places no less.

  3. There’s a lot of buzz about this “dollar bills RFID” case online today. I’ve personally yet to see proof that it’s RFID - your source is the closest I’ve seen.

    I suspect there might be other metallic components in the banknotes that are exploding, not necessarily RFID tags. This is not to say, of course, that RFID in bank notes may be a future application of RFID…

    There are some links you might find interesting here:

    http://www.rfidbuzz.com/news/2004/rfid_tags_in_new_us_notes_explode_when_you_try_to_microwave_them.html
    http://www.rfidbuzz.com/news/2004/rfid_in_us_postage_stamps_dollar_bills.html
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=98942&cid=8437731
    http://thraxil.org/nodes/5027
    http://www.rfidbuzz.com/news/2004/rsa_security_to_unveil_a_blocker_tag.html

    The full story on the 20$ banknotes will certainly be updated here as soon as intependent source(s) confirm/debunk the claims:
    http://www.rfidbuzz.com/wiki/Actors/InternalRevenueService

    (it’s a Wiki - you can update it too! )

  4. I’m with Anders on this one. I’m betting it’s some other metalic component. Canadian money has holographic foil, and all sorts of metalic inks.

    Even his wallet being the cause leading to this discovery is no proof. My wallet is full of RFIDs. He probably forgot about his access pass, drivers license, library card…

  5. I’ve been reading about the RFID hoopla in my geek magazines lately. I’m still not sure where I stand on it.

    Opponents accuse it of being too Big Brother-ish, proponents say they are giving way too much credit to a fairly harmless technology.

    It’s my understanding that the technology isn’t a whole lot different from barcode readers and what you can do with them…the difference is the distance. RFID can be read from a distance without the readee’s knowledge.

    I’m wondering if buying stock in Reynolds Wrap would be a wise idea? You can keep the aliens our of your brain AND protect your cash from Big Brother. It’s a twofer.

  6. This one is too new for the Urban Legend sites that I frequent to have rendered a verdict on the $20 story.

    On snopes.com, I didn’t find anything on the currency story. However, the hit that I got on RFID indicates that Walmart cancelled their RFID test. The other site, about.urbanlegends.com, did have a report on the currency story that included pictures of the damaged bills. About also provided a link to a page with a bunch of RFID definations.

  7. I would like to know who would attempt to microwave $1000 dollars worth of cash, let’s say the worst happens and it becomes of burning pile of ash.  Wow, that was a great idea, let’s do it again.  Wouldn’t just one $20 bill suffice?

  8. Brandi -

    The main concern is what happens when you combine RFIDs with lots of readers, and marketting slime.

    RFIDs differ from barcodes in one important regard. They are each uniquely identifiable. When I read a barcode, I can tell it’s a can of coke, but not which can of coke.

    With the RFID GUID (Globally unique idenifier), I can tell exactly which can of coke out of the billions of other cans. I can link that back to who bought it, when, and with what other things.

    With data mining, there is the potential that I could then track you from place to place by following that can of coke, and like that with what things you purchased there, etc.

    You could remain somewhat annoymous by using cash instead of cards that are linked specifically to you, but with RFID money, the money is linked specifically to you now because you got it from an ATM… etc etc etc etc

    That’s the big brother view. The realistic view initially with be something much less. But money is to be made by tracking you, and that’s big incentive to chip away at your right to be anonymous.

  9. Anders, thanks for the links. Anything that points to more info is always appreciated.

    Frac, you’ve pretty much nailed the concerns some folks have over RFID. Certainly most of the privacy concerns brought up by the Big Brother Is Watching Us folks are the absolute worst-case scenarios and I’m not necessarily opposed to this technology on the basis of what MIGHT happen, but if such technology is being put to use and if they’re using it for tracking purposes I’d rather be aware of it then unaware.

    In short, it’s not so much I mind being watched by Big Brother as long as I’m aware that he might be doing so.

  10. Not that anyone here would EVER consider doing something like this but imagine that you stop by the ATM and withdraw $60.00 which comes as 3 $20.00 bills, as it passes through the machine it is tied to your account number through your ATM card. Then let’s say that you decide to buy a small amount of that marijuana all the kids are talking about, with two of the bills from the ATM. Now let’s say that in the course of a drug bust one of your bills is seized and tracked back to you via the son-of-Total-Information-Awareness-database (I am unsure what the current iteration is named). The first time might only place a flag next to your name, hell maybe you paid the kid down the block cash to mow your lawn our over seers muse. But the database contains ALL of your personal information from the munchies you buy at Kroger to your DVD rental of Dazed and Confused at the corner BlockBuster. It is starting to look like maybe you ARE a dope fiend so they add another flag for closer surveillance of your buying habits and travel plans, now you could be a mule or maybe a pusher they think.

    Or maybe you begin to look like a sexual predator because you have a penchant for booze, candy, and jerk-off mags (and those awful internet sites you have been to). Never mind that the alcohol was for your parent

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