Five ways a thief can steal your credit card information

Things were simpler back in the day. Protecting your credit cards just meant keeping them in your pocket. The biggest threat was someone stealing your wallet or purse.

Changes in technology have made credit card theft a lot less personal and a lot more prevalent. Now thieves can snatch your credit card account information while your actual cards remain safely in your possession.

Data breach

In the past few years, huge national retailers have been hit hard by hackers breaking into their databases and stealing customer information. Despite increased information security, hackers keep finding ways into these secured databases. Each hack can potentially impact hundreds of thousands of customers.

Unfortunately, as a consumer, there’s very little you can do to prevent a third party with your information from being hacked. Following a breach, the effected company will most likely inform you that your information has been compromised. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your information has actually been taken – it just means that it could have been taken.

If your information is compromised as part of a data breach, be sure to keep a close eye on your credit accounts, as well as your credit report. Fraudulent activity can be overturned, but the sooner you begin the process the easier it is.

Unsecured websites

Entering your credit card information into a website may potentially expose you to information thieves. These thieves can use unsecured websites in one of two ways: they can either swipe the information directly from the site, or they can use the site to infect your computer with malware that would leave your personal information open to future attacks.

As a rule of thumb, always be careful about what sites you visit. Also verify that the site you’re using is secured before entering confidential information. Check the address bar at the top of the browser – if the address begins https, the site is secured; if it begins http, it likely isn’t.

Phishing scams

Always be wary of opening any unsolicited email, especially anything that comes from someone you don’t know. Thieves often use attachments to emails as a means of infecting your computer with spyware, which could potentially provide thieves with access to all of the information on your computer, including credit card account information.


Skimmers are small, portable devices that thieves can use to swipe your credit card information. They’re used in a number of ways. They can be inserted into ATMs and self-service card readers (at the gas station, for example). Thieves can also use them by hand in the course of a normal transaction (a waiter might use one to collect your information, for example).

As ATM cards are usually protected by a PIN, ATM skimmers often install a camera pointed at the keypad to collect the PIN. Be sure to cover the keypad while entering your PIN. If you encounter a card reader that appears to have been tampered with, avoid using it.

Contactless card readers

Some credit cards come with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. This means that these cards don’t have to be swiped to be read. Users only need to touch the card to the reader and the transaction is completed.

The cards are designed to be convenient, but information security specialists have demonstrated that these contactless “smart” cards have a major flaw. Thieves can steal the information off these cards by using a concealed reader and getting close to the card. In other words, with the right technology, a thief can grab your credit card info simply by standing next to you.

If you’ve got a credit card with RFID technology, you can actually buy RFID-blocking wallets and billfolds. These special holders block the signal from your card, protecting you from lurking thieves.

Whether or not you suspect that your credit account has been compromised or hacked it’s important to continuously monitor all of your banking and credit accounts. Thieves are constantly evolving their methods. Today’s prevention might not be good enough for tomorrow’s attacks. So stay vigilant, shop smart, and act quickly if you think your information has been stolen.

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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