A simple, smart use of RFID represents a significant breakthrough in fighting fraud and crime.

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

June 5, 2015

4 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-ZPass#/media/File:E-ZPass_Toll_Plaza_-_Spaulding_Turnpike.jpg" target="_blnak">Fletcher6</a> via Wikipedia)</p>

Beyond Apple Watch: What's Next In Wearables

Beyond Apple Watch: What's Next In Wearables

Beyond Apple Watch: What's Next In Wearables (Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

RFID: It isn't just for tolls anymore. Bolivia has a solution for detecting illegal cars that is so simple, you'll wonder why we haven't been doing it for years. And it will also lead to clever and easy anti-fraud detection in all sorts of other businesses. Bolivia has made RFID chips mandatory on every car, and the government is having gas stations read those tags to catch registration scofflaws and other bad guys.

RFID is out of vogue as wireless sensors and other connected products come to the forefront of the Internet of Things, but sometimes a simple and cheap solution is best. Nearly every car needs gas to run. So the one thing people driving around without registration can't avoid is the pump. The startlingly simple solution is for gas stations to check the RFID tag of every car that pulls into the station. No tag and the police are alerted. If the tag doesn't match the vehicle or the license plate, the police are alerted. Then the owner of the car in question has time to work out with the police if this is an error, or if that owner is in violation. In a pilot program, the country identified 12,000 vehicles using illegal duplicate plates. The program is now expanding it nationwide. Here's a video.

I couldn't determine exactly how much these specific chips cost, but it is easy to find RFID tags in the $5-$25 range, well within the bounds of what most country's drivers expect to pay in registration fees. Some more robust versions can be found in the $50-$100 range, but a sticker on the inside of your windshield shouldn't require too much in the way of protection. The readers themselves are not overly expensive, with models ranging in the low four figures to five figures at most. In other words, they should be fairly affordable for gas stations (assuming they get a reward for caught vehicles) or the government to install.

There are 68 cars per 1,000 people in Bolivia. A quick calculation shows that there are about 750,000 cars in Bolivia. Considering the pilot yielded 12,000 illegal cars, this becomes affordable quickly when you are considering fines, the value of stopping crime, etc. Now, imagine if you scale that to the 254 million cars in America.

It wouldn't shock me if all US states adopt this idea as soon as they hear about it. It can be used to identify late registrations, spot unregistered vehicles, and find cars that are reported stolen (because removing the tag doesn't save your car from being impounded, and changing it requires you to register the tag to the car). The fines alone will be worth it, especially if you pass the cost of the tags on to drivers at registration and get gas stations to install them for a cut.

This has implications outside of cars as well. RFID tags are getting less expensive, and Gartner says we'll be able to "connect" every device in one way or another for $1 by 2020. Imagine a world where everything you owned could be verified as yours simply when you walked by a scanner.

The obvious first step is inventory control. Put a tag in every shirt. Instead of just making the alarm go off when you leave the store (a system which is rather easily defeated), have the tag actively report if it returns to the store or other partner stores. Or in a true Big Brother world, if every shirt has a tag, you can have a reader report if someone comes into a store wearing untagged clothing.

Another potential use is in pharmaceutical fraud. RFID tags, as well as holograms, have been used in spotting pharmaceutical fraud for some time. Many people have used RFID tags on windshields for fleet management and in inventory control of in-house computing resources.

[ Want more cool electronic solutions? Read 10 Ways to Fight Digital Theft and Fraud. ]

And, of course, it can go beyond inventory control. RFID tags on a pair of golf clubs might alert a golf course to someone it wants to give VIP treatment to. RFID tags in a bracelet could alert hospitals to someone with a condition that requires specific care.

The key to this particular use, however, is finding a dependency of the object. Cars need gas. Not every object has the same type of obvious dependency. Not everything can be controlled as universally as a government can control cars. Of course, depending on whether your goal is catching or serving someone, the purpose would change the use of the tags. Still, we've only scratched the surface of RFID tags, and this simple use of them should serve as a playbook for future uses.

What do you think? Is this a fair use of technology by the government, or an unnecessary intrusion? Will we ever see the day when malls scan for illegal merchandise? Tell us in the comments section below.

About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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