Technologically Advanced Credit Card Theft

Before technology made things easier for credit card thieves, they dug through trash to get credit card statements and carbon copies with card imprints. Now they don’t have to get their hands dirty. Instead, they hack, phish, or skim their way to theft.

Earlier this year, thieves were able to get into the systems of Michaels Stores, Sony, Epsilon, Citibank, and even the security expert RSA. Sometimes they only got names and email addresses, but sometimes they got credit card numbers as well.

Here are 5 of the most common ways thieves use to access your information:

Secret Scanning: Crooks, moonlighting as bartenders, sales clerks, or waitresses use a small hand-held device to swipe and store your credit card information. The scanning device, about the size of an ice cube, fits easily into a pocket. All he or she has to do is have the card out of your line of sight for a few seconds

The fraudulent credit card reader: This one takes a bit of nerve, as well as acting ability.

Generally used in stores with limited staff, a team of thieves stage an “emergency” that takes the clerk away from the register. While the clerk is gone, one member of the team stays behind at the register and switches the credit card reader with a fraudulent reader. This one not only collects data for the store’s charges, it collects data for the thieves.

After several days, the team returns to the store, once again distracts the clerk, and switches the fraudulent reader for the original.

The Skimmer: Any credit card reader that’s unmanned for a portion of the day or night can be compromised by this one. It takes only a few minutes to set up and blends into its surroundings so well that only a trained eye is apt to spot it.

All that’s necessary is a few minutes to work unobserved and a place nearby where a crook and his or her laptop can hole up while the skimmer is working.

This is a small device that fits neatly over the slot at an ATM, a gas pump, or a vending machine. It emits a Bluetooth signal that can be picked up by the laptop and allows the crooks to capture credit card information from every consumer who inserts a card to make a purchase or withdraw funds.

The Hacker: This devious character preys on websites with low security. He installs a bit of software called malware that infiltrates a computer or a network. When you visit the site, it automatically and instantly downloads into your computer and allows the hacker to access your information.

The hacker can go almost anywhere – including the computer systems of banks and other businesses. From there, your personal information becomes his open book.
The Phiserman: Phishing also uses malware, but he sends it to you via email. Once you open the attachment, he’s in. From there he can access all your information. One form of malware, called spyware, allows the hacker to capture every keystroke you make – including your account numbers, PIN numbers, and passwords.

Because this hacker has access to your computer, he can send malware from your name to everyone in your address book – making his malicious message look as if it came from you.

What’s the point of all this? Money, of course. Depending upon the buyer and the information gathered, the thieves can get from $5 to $40 per compromised account.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Set up alerts so you know immediately if there’s unusual activity on your accounts.
  • If you must use public computers, don’t check your email.
  • Use a separate email address for all financial activity – and don’t have other mail sent to that address. You’ll instantly spot a phishing scheme coming to that address.
  • Don’t open unknown attachments. If something appears to be from a friend but doesn’t look like their normal correspondence, call or email them to ask if they sent it. Often, the answer is no.
  • Check your accounts online regularly. The sooner you catch fraudulent transactions, the sooner you can put a stop to further damage.
  • Only shop online with vendors you trust. Even they can be compromised, but they’re safer than dealing with unknown vendors.
  • If you find evidence that your accounts have been compromised, act quickly. Notify your financial institutions, law enforcement, and any one of the “big three” credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. They’ll set a fraud alert on your credit reports.

Can you absolutely avoid having your credit card information stolen? Not any more. Not if you use your cards. So be careful and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.

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Disclaimer: This information has been compiled and provided by as an informational service to the public. While our goal is to provide information that will help consumers to manage their credit and debt, this information should not be considered legal advice. Such advice must be specific to the various circumstances of each person's situation, and the general information provided on these pages should not be used as a substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.