What Is Credit Card Fraud?
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- Credit card fraud is the theft and unauthorized use of your credit card information.
- Two of the most common types of credit card fraud are skimming and card cloning. Be sure you know how to recognize the warning signs of each scam.
- If you or a loved one has fallen victim to credit card fraud, be sure to reach out to your card issuer to dispute fraudulent charges and request a new credit card.
Credit card fraud — the theft and unauthorized use of your credit card information — can wreak havoc on your finances and credit scores. Luckily, you can help protect your credit card from thieves by recognizing the signs of fraud and taking steps to secure your personal information.
4 Common Ways Credit Card Fraud Happens
Credit card fraud is a surprisingly common crime that can occur in many different forms.
- Card-present fraud occurs when someone uses a stolen credit card or a fraudulent duplicated card to make unauthorized purchases in a store or other face-to-face setting. However, modern technology brings plenty of opportunities for digital theft as well.
- Card-not-present fraud occurs when someone gains access to your credit card information without obtaining the card itself. For example, a thief might use a phishing scheme to install harmful software, known as malware, on your computer to record your keystrokes or otherwise spy on your device, with the intent to steal your credit card information from a distance. The criminal might then sell the card’s information or use it themselves to make fraudulent purchases.
- Skimming is another common tactic that can lead to credit card fraud. A skimmer is an electronic device that is hidden within a legitimate card reader without the merchant’s knowledge and used to steal data during real-world transactions. When a shopper makes a purchase using the affected card reader, the skimmer copies the information stored in the credit card’s magnetic strip.
Skimmers are frequently found in ATMs and gas station pumps, and can even show up in retail stores, restaurants and other places where you use your card. Some skimmers also include hidden cameras or false keypads to record your PIN, allowing them to compromise both debit and credit card accounts.
- Card cloning commonly occurs after your credit card data has been stolen. Once a skimmer captures your card’s unique information, it can be copied onto a blank card or overwritten onto another stolen card. The cloned card may then be used to make direct purchases, obtain a cash advance or buy money orders.
Skimming and cloning can be part of cooperative, sophisticated operations. For example, one individual might sell data collected from a skimmer to someone with a card-cloning machine, while another party uses the cloned cards to purchase gift cards.
How to avoid card cloning, credit card skimmers and other types of credit card fraud
How often is credit card fraud caught? It depends on the seriousness of the crime, the terms of your credit card and which kind of fraud occurred. That’s why you should take action to protect yourself.
- Protect your credit card data from digital theft. Make sure your computer’s digital security is up to date. Consider installing a full suite of high-quality antiviral software to protect against malware, especially if you often make purchases or bank online. Don’t store your credit card information in your browser or your online retail accounts, and use password encryption if you can.
- Inspect ATMs and gas pumps before use. The best way to prevent skimming is to look before you insert your card, especially into ATMs and gas pumps. Skimmers on ATMs typically fit over the original card reader. If the reader appears loose, damaged or bulky, do not use it. Check the keyboard for signs of tampering and try to prevent your PIN from being captured by a camera when you enter it. It’s also a good idea to avoid non-bank ATMs altogether, as they are common targets for skimming.
Gas pump skimmers are usually installed inside the machine. If you can, use a pump that’s visible to the gas station attendant and located close to the storefront, or pay inside instead. If you see security tape on a pump and the seal is broken, don’t use it.
- Use a credit card with a microchip. Make sure your credit card includes a tiny processor called a microchip. Unlike a magnetic strip, which simply stores information, a microchip encrypts your account data, making your card much less susceptible to skimming and cloning.
- Choose your card carefully. If credit card fraud does occur, the Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability for unauthorized purchases to $50, but it may also be in your best interest to find a card that offers $0 fraud liability. While common, a $0 lability benefit is not standard, so be sure to read the terms of prospective credit cards carefully before applying.
- Use transaction alerts. You can manually monitor your debit and credit accounts for unrecognized spending, but it’s also a good idea to enable automated transaction alerts. Most banks and credit card companies give you the option of receiving instant notifications when your card is used to make a purchase over a certain amount. These alerts can help you catch fraud early and take action to stop it in its tracks.
What can you do if you’re a victim of credit card fraud?
If you or a loved one has fallen victim to credit card fraud, be sure to report the issue through the proper channels. Reach out to your bank or credit card issuer as soon as possible to dispute fraudulent charges made with your account and request a new credit card. Consider updating your passwords and other security features for any accounts associated with your card.
You can also file a scam report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) either online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or by phone at 877-382-4357.