How do people steal credit card numbers?

Do you suspect that your credit card number has been compromised? Or maybe your friend or a family member has encountered a credit card scammer.

Credit card scams can cost you big time in terms of hassle and dollars lost, so it’s important to have security measures properly set up. 

How exactly do credit card scams work? How do you know if your card has already been compromised? Most importantly, what can you do to prevent it? 

We looked into authoritative credit card resources online and dug into how people steal credit card information. We also read reputable sources and credit card expert insights on how to prevent stolen credit card numbers. 

The last thing you want is to be unaware of how these scams work and end up doing things that can compromise your credit card. Keep reading until the very end to learn about our top tip for keeping your credit card details safe from scammers.

How do criminals steal credit card information?

Thieves and other criminals can steal your credit card information using a variety of ways, including:

1. Physical theft

While most people are aware that criminals can steal their credit card information online, few realize that physical theft is also a major problem.

This type of theft usually occurs when a thief accesses a person’s wallet or purse or steals mail from their mailbox. 

Once the thief has your credit card number, they can make fraudulent charges or even open a new account in your name.

2. Phishing emails or texts

Phishing is a type of online fraud that occurs when criminals pose as legitimate businesses to trick you into providing sensitive information, such as your credit card numbers or login credentials. 

Phishing scams can take many forms, but they often involve fraudulent emails or text messages that appear to be from a trusted source.

When you click on a link in the message, you’re taken to a fake website that looks identical to the real thing. The fake site then collects your personal information, which could pose a serious problem because it can lead to identity theft and financial loss.

3. Skimming or shimming

Skimmers are devices that criminals attach to ATMs, gas pumps, and other point-of-sale terminals to capture credit and debit card data. They place these devices on the outside of the machine. 

Nowadays, because of the widespread awareness about skimmers, this technology has evolved. New devices called shimmers can now be attached safely inside the machines, making it harder for you to detect them. 

However, it still functions the same way. When you swipe your card, the skimmer or shimmer captures your account number, expiration date, and security code. Criminals can then use this to create a fake credit card, with which they can make online or in-store purchases.

4. Malware

Malware is a type of software that’s designed to damage or disable computer systems. Criminals can install it on your computer or device without your knowledge, and they can use it to steal information like credit card numbers and login credentials.

Often, malware is spread through email attachments or links to malicious websites. Once installed, the malware can collect credit card information that you type into your infected computer. 

It can also intercept data that’s being transmitted between your computer and the financial institution you’re sending it to.

5. Data breaches

In a data breach, criminals gain access to credit card information by hacking into a company’s computer systems. 

Once they have the credit card numbers, they can use the information to make unauthorized charges or even open new accounts in the victims’ names.

Data breaches can occur at any type of business, but they’re especially common at large retailers. 

In recent years, major companies, such as Target and Home Depot, have been victims of data breaches that exposed the credit card information of millions of customers.

6. Formjacking

Formjacking is a new type of cybercrime where criminals use malicious code to hijack online forms and steal credit card information. 

It typically involves adding a few lines of code to an existing web page, which allows the attacker to redirect payments you make through the form to their account. 

When you enter your credit card information into the form, the attackers can collect this data and use it to make unauthorized charges.

Formjacking can be difficult to detect, as malicious code is often well-hidden within the code of the page. 

However, some signs can indicate that a page may have been compromised, such as unusual browser activity or unexpected pop-ups.

7. Shoulder surfing

This occurs when someone looks over the shoulder of a credit card holder to obtain their account number and other sensitive information. 

Shoulder surfers often target busy public places, such as shopping malls or airports, where they can blend in with the crowd. They may also follow their victims home to continue observing them. 

In some cases, shoulder surfers may use video cameras or binoculars to get a better view of their victim’s credit card. 

Sometimes, it may also involve insiders, such as people you give your credit card information to when you’re paying bills over the phone or when you hand over your credit card to a restaurant employee to pay the bill.

8. Dumpster diving

Dumpster diving, also known as skip tracing, is the act of rummaging through trash to find personal or sensitive information. 

While this may seem like an unlikely way for criminals to obtain credit card information, it’s actually quite common.

Oftentimes, people will carelessly dispose of their credit card statements or receipts without shredding them first. 

This provides a goldmine of information for thieves, who can then use this information to make fraudulent purchases.

Simply by rifling through a few trash bags, a criminal could easily find receipts or bills with credit card numbers printed on them. 

In addition, many people simply throw away their credit card statements without shredding them first.

As a result, dumpster diving can be a very effective way for criminals to obtain the credit card information they need.

How can you check if a criminal has stolen your credit card information?

If you think that your credit card information may have been stolen, there are a few things you can do to check.

Review your statements for unauthorized charges

If you see any charges that you did not make, be sure to report them to your credit card company immediately.

Monitor your credit report

You can order a copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion

This will allow you to see if there has been any suspicious activity on your account, such as new accounts being opened in your name.

If you find any unauthorized activity on your report, be sure to contact the credit bureau and file a dispute. 

You should also consider placing a fraud alert on your account, which will make it more difficult for criminals to open new accounts in your name.

Check your credit score regularly

A significant drop in your score could be an indication that your information has been stolen and used to open new accounts. 

If you find any suspicious activity on your credit report or score, be sure to contact the appropriate authorities and take steps to protect yourself from further fraud.

What should you do if your credit card details are stolen?

If your credit card information is stolen, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from fraud.

1. Report the theft to your financial institutions

Report the theft to your credit card company, bank, and other financial institutions immediately. This will allow them to cancel your card and issue you a new one. It will also allow them to officially document the case and take steps to help you protect yourself from further damages.

2. Place a fraud alert on your account

You should also contact the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your account. This will make it more difficult for criminals to open new accounts in your name.

3. Continue monitoring your credit report

In addition, you should continuously review your credit report for any suspicious activity. If you see anything that looks incorrect, be sure to file a dispute with the credit bureau.

4. Report the incident to the authorities

You should also report the incident to the police and any other relevant authorities. This will give you a document trail that can come in useful if you need to file disputes later on. 

5. Change your passwords and security questions

This goes for all of your online accounts. This will help to prevent criminals from accessing your accounts and using your information to commit fraud.

By taking these steps, you can protect yourself from credit card fraud and other types of identity theft.

Will you be held liable for fraudulent charges on your stolen credit card?

Generally speaking, you’re not responsible for any unauthorized charges made on your credit card. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.

  • First, if you fail to report the loss or theft of your card, you may be held responsible for up to $50 in fraudulent charges. However, many credit card companies will waive this fee if you report the theft on time.
  • Second, if you’ve been careless with your credit card and have allowed others to have access to it, you may also be held liable for fraudulent charges.
  • Finally, if you’ve used your credit card for illegal transactions, such as gambling or purchasing illegal drugs, you may also be held criminally liable for those transactions.

In short, as long as you take reasonable precautions with your credit card and report any loss or theft on time, you shouldn’t be held liable for any fraudulent charges that are made on your card.

How can you prevent your credit card information from being stolen?

There are a few things you can do to prevent your credit card information from being stolen.

1. Be careful who you give your credit card information to

Never give your credit card information to anyone who calls you out of the blue. If you receive an unsolicited call asking for your credit card information, don’t respond. The same goes for links in emails or text messages.

These are all types of phishing scams, and they can be very difficult to spot. If you receive a suspicious email, call, or text message, don’t just provide your information or click on any links. 

Instead, contact your credit card company directly to verify its legitimacy. If it isn’t legitimate, report it to the authorities immediately.

2. Use only secure websites for online purchases

Secure websites will have an address that begins with https:// and will have a lock icon next to the address. Be sure to check for these before entering your credit card information online.

3. Don’t save your credit card information on your phone or computer

This is especially important if you use public computers or Wi-Fi networks. If your device is lost or stolen, criminals will be able to access your credit card information and use it to commit fraud.

4. Keep your card physically secured

Only take it out when you need to use it. If you must carry your credit card with you, be sure to keep it in a secure location, such as a front pocket or money clip.

5. Use a credit card with fraud protection features 

Many credit cards now offer features such as fraud alerts and the ability to freeze your account if it’s stolen. These features can give you peace of mind and help to protect your finances if your credit card is ever lost or stolen.

6. Install antivirus software on your devices

You must keep your antivirus up to date. This will help to protect your computer from the malware that criminals can use to steal your credit card information.

7. Shred documents that contain important information

It’s important to shred any documents that contain your credit card information before throwing them away. This includes receipts, statements, and anything else that has your credit card number on it.

8. Regularly check your credit card statements for suspicious activity

Sometimes, despite all your efforts, criminals can and will find a way to steal your credit card information if they really want to. Your most important defense is your awareness.

Regularly checking your statements and credit reports will allow you to detect anomalies in them quickly. It will also let you take action as soon as possible so you can minimize or eliminate the risk of fraud.

If you see anything that looks incorrect, be sure to report it to your credit card company immediately. 

You should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. This will help you to keep track of your credit report and score, and you’ll be alerted if there’s any suspicious activity.

By following these tips, you can help stop criminals from stealing your credit card information and reduce the risk of fraud.


Credit card information theft is a serious issue that can result in large financial losses. Nowadays, the methods criminals use to steal these types of information are getting increasingly sophisticated. 

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to protect yourself from credit card theft. Recognizing the signs of a compromised credit card is the first step to minimizing the damage that these criminals can cause. 

Taking steps to prevent it from happening in the first place is also crucial. If you follow these tips, you can help protect yourself from credit card fraud.

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