How Can Someone Use My Credit Card Without Having It? A Complete Guide to Theft Prevention
With stolen credit card info alone, fraudsters caused over $5.7 billion in losses for U.S. consumers in 2022. Most of those cases don’t involve thieves obtaining physical debit or credit cards—stolen credit card numbers are enough for fraudulent online and mail-order transactions.
If you’re wondering, “How can someone use my credit card without having it,” this guide will explain:
- How do thieves steal credit card numbers?
- What can you do when someone uses your credit card fraudulently?
- How can you minimize the risk of credit card number theft?
How Do Scammers Steal Credit Card Numbers?
Thieves can find your credit card number in multiple ways without physically stealing the card. The eight most common methods are:
- Shoulder surfing
- Card skimming and shimming
- RFID collection
- Phishing scams
- Malicious software
- Public Wi-Fi hacks
- Online store hacks
We’ll cover each of these techniques in more detail below.
As the name suggests, shoulder surfing involves looking over someone’s shoulder as they use an ATM or enter their credit card PIN at a payment terminal.
Experienced thieves don’t need more than a few moments to memorize your credit card information or take a picture of it for later reference. In rarer instances, criminals use binoculars and other vision-enhancing hardware to see your credit card number from a distance.
Card Skimmers and Shimmers
Tech-savvy criminals may use small devices called “skimmers” to collect your credit card numbers. These devices copy data from cards’ magnetic strips, allowing criminals to manufacture cloned cards.
Shimmers, on the other hand, have the same purpose but target newer chip-based credit cards instead of older ones with magnetic strips. Both skimmers and shimmers are typically installed in card readers on unattended sale terminals, like public transit payment stations or gas stations.
Most modern credit cards support contactless payments via radio-frequency identification (RFID). These cards have a radio transmitter that sends a wireless signal to a radio receiver in a payment terminal during transactions. If a thief can get physically close to you, they can use an RFID reader to steal your credit card information wirelessly by intercepting the signal.
The information criminals could steal via RFID collection includes:
- Cardholder’s name
- Card number
- Expiration date
Phishing is one of the most common schemes used in stealing credit card numbers. During these scams, thieves attempt to lure you into providing your card information willingly by pretending to be a legitimate and trusted source, such as a:
- Credit card company
- Tech company whose products or services you use
- Government agency
- Social media platform
- Online store
Phishing entails fraudsters sending emails or text messages requesting your credit card information. The emails may contain links to fake websites where you’re asked to enter your credit card number. Alternatively, fraudsters may ask you to include the information in response to their text message or email.
Cybercriminals sometimes use email phishing attacks to deploy malicious software—or malware—to your devices. Some malware can steal sensitive information from your device, including your credit card information.
Keyloggers are the most common type of malware. They record every keystroke on your device, giving criminals access to everything you type, including credit card information for online purchases. The information is transmitted to the hackers, allowing them to perform criminal activities such as selling your card data on the Dark Web, conducting unauthorized online transactions, or creating fake credit cards.
Public Wi-Fi Hacks
Open Wi-Fi networks, like the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop or the airport, aren’t safe for making online transactions.
Hackers may use man-in-the-middle attacks to intercept data transmitted over public Wi-Fi. If they position themselves between the router and your device, your data will go to the hackers first, before the Internet. Data at risk includes credit card numbers you use for online payments.
Cybercriminals can also set up networks that seem like real public Wi-Fi. If you connect to their fake wireless network, hackers can read every piece of data you send and receive.
Online Store Hacks
In 2023, the global eCommerce market has been estimated at over $6 billion. Physical retailers are losing more market share to web stores each year. As an unfortunate consequence of this transition, online stores have become a lucrative target for cybercriminals.
According to Statista, over 6 million data breaches occur each financial quarter. One data breach at a major tech company like Facebook or T-Mobile can contain information from millions of credit cards, making them attractive targets for hackers.
Online stores are also targeted by hackers because they often keep your credit card data on file to streamline future purchases. While keeping a card on file is convenient, it also allows hackers who gain access to the store’s database to steal your credit card info. Cybercriminals may use shockingly simple attacks to break into online databases, such as taking advantage of weak passwords and known vulnerabilities that need patching, or may employ much more sophisticated methods, such as refined phishing attacks or ransomware.
What To Do When Someone Uses Your Credit Card Fraudulently
If you believe someone has used your credit card without your knowledge, the first thing you should do is contact the bank or credit union that issued your credit card. Most credit card issuers have a fraud protection and security department whose representatives can help you by:
- Freezing or closing your account
- Closing the compromised credit card
- Clearing fraudulent purchases from your account
For cybercriminals to obtain your credit card numbers, they usually have to gain access to your online accounts first. As a result, your next step should be changing all your passwords.
If you didn’t have two-factor authentication (2FA) enabled before, turn it on now. 2FA is a more secure login process that confirms your identity via two factors—your password and a confirmation code sent to your device—ensuring that no one can log into your account with your credentials alone.
After turning on 2FA to prevent further unauthorized access, request a copy of your credit report and review it for fraudulent activity. It’s important to check for two things:
- Have thieves gained access to any other credit accounts?
- Have they opened new lines of credit in your name?
Once you report the theft to your bank, they’ll take it from there. The bank will block your card and issue a replacement or may even involve law enforcement if exorbitant amounts are stolen. While consumer credit card users are generally protected in the case of theft by the Fair Credit Billing Act, it is still crucial to report the criminal activity timely.
You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and receive a recovery plan if you suspect your credit card number has been used for identity theft.
How To Minimize the Risk of Credit Card Number Theft
You can take various steps to reduce the risk of credit card scams. Consult the table below for information on how to prevent different types of theft: