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Ways Credit Card Numbers Get Stolen

Tamsen Butler

Stolen credit card numbers can be quite useful to thieves because they can charge up plenty of merchandise if the cardholder does not realize quickly that the numbers have been stolen. If the cardholder does not react quickly and appropriately to having credit card numbers stolen then there is a real potential for future hassles.

Acquiring Stolen Credit Card Numbers

There are several ways for thieves to get their hands on stolen credit card numbers, and sometimes it is much easier than physically stealing someone's wallet. In fact, some thieves never actually have physical possession of the credit cards from which they steal the numbers.

Once you realize the many methods for stealing credit card numbers you will start to understand why it is so important to safeguard your credit card information and only grant access to trusted sources.

Stealing Cards

It isn't difficult for a thief to get possession of credit card numbers if the thief steals a wallet or purse containing credit cards. This is one of the least sophisticated methods used to get credit card numbers and it does not usually meet with great success since most people notice fairly quickly when their wallets have been stolen. Essentially, the scenario becomes a race against time as the thief scrambles to use the credit cards before the accounts are closed due to the cardholder reporting them as stolen.

Stolen credit cards that are not detected as lost by the cardholders for a while can be a goldmine for the thief because they have access to the credit card numbers as well as the three-digit security code that is usually featured on the back of the cards. In this instance, thieves can make purchases in person, online, and over the phone using the stolen credit card numbers until the cardholder realizes the cards are gone and closes the accounts. Luckily, in some instances, the credit card company will detect potentially fraudulent use and will freeze access to the accounts until the cardholder is contacted.

Credit Card Skimming

Skimming is a more complicated method of gaining access to stolen credit card numbers. In this situation, the thief has physical access to the card momentarily, such as when accepting the card as payment for a purchase of goods or services. The thief then copies the numbers of the card using one of several methods:

  • Physically copying the numbers onto paper or using a copy machine
  • Running the card through a skimming machine that records credit card numbers
  • Retrieving receipts and copying the numbers

This is a particularly deceitful way to obtain credit card numbers because the person stealing the numbers is in a trusted position. Cardholders do not expect to wind up with their card numbers stolen by simply conducting a routine transaction.


Phishing involves posing as a legitimate company or representative in an attempt to gain access to credit card numbers or other personal information. A phishing scam might involve someone calling a credit card holder over the phone and asking for the cardholder to verify an account number or instead may come in the form of an e-mail or pop-up on the computer that attempts to illicit a response from the cardholder. Phishing scams can be particularly effective because they appear to be legitimate requests for information and in many instances they are designed to make the cardholder panic and not think clearly when asked for credit card information. Potential phishing scams may include contacting the cardholder either over the phone or via the Internet and:

  • Telling cardholders that their cards has been used fraudulently and they must verify their account numbers immediately
  • Telling cardholders that their credit card limit is maxed out and they need to give information to clear up the problem
  • Warning credit card holders that their credit cards will be closed if they do not verify their numbers immediately

Phishing scams are getting more sophisticated as consumers become more savvy and cautious.


Although having a credit card number stolen can be a huge hassle to deal with, credit card holders have limited liability when their card numbers are stolen. Although federal law states that the maximum consumer liability for fraudulent credit card use is $50, some credit card companies have a zero liability guarantee.

Ways Credit Card Numbers Get Stolen