Top 5 Ways Credit Card Numbers Are Stolen

Top 5 Ways Credit Card Numbers Are Stolen

October 1, 2014         Written By John H. Oldshue

Credit card theft has become a big problem in America. Researchers estimate that 10% of Americans have been victims of credit card fraud. The switch to chip and PIN technology should reduce these rates dramatically, but for now, the threat is still very real. Listed below, in no particular order, are the top five ways credit card numbers are stolen.

Data Breaches

Ever since the massive Target credit card breach in late 2013, data hacks have turned into one of the most prominent issues in the United States. The most recent example of these hacks is with Home Depot, which affected approximately 56 million credit and debit cards.

In the case of a data breach, a hacker or a team of hackers will use malicious software or “malware” to log into a company’s stored credit card information. There are also rare instances where someone who works for the company, or has access to the company’s files, will manually steal card information while on the job. This information may include the card number, expiration date and security code, depending on how the company stores and encrypts the data.

Card Skimmers

Credit card skimming is another way credit card numbers are stolen. In this case, a small device is inserted into an ATM machine or a credit card reader to store information when a credit card is swiped. A waiter at a restaurant may use a credit card skimmer to steal card information when he takes a customer’s card to pay for a meal.

Skimming devices are designed to be small and discreet–you would not notice them unless you were specifically looking for a skimmer. They may be accompanied by a camera somewhere above the keypad so the hackers can track PIN numbers associated with debit cards. The information from the skimmer is collected by either manually removing the skimmer from the machine or transmitting the information through Bluetooth to a phone or tablet.


Identity thieves may steal credit card information through fraudulent emails. There are many different types of emails that lead to credit card theft, but phishing emails are usually the biggest culprits. These emails are designed to look like they are from a legitimate company, one you may be familiar with or frequently visit. The emails will direct you to a fake website that looks almost identical to the real site. When you enter your login details or your credit card number, the phishers have captured your data.

Never click on a link that comes to you in an unsolicited email. If you need to do anything online, go to the actual website and log in. Also, contact the company if you receive any suspicious emails.


Stealing credit card information through the mail may be considered “old school,” but crooks do it all the time. In some instances, a thief will actually take mail out of your mailbox to steal checks or your account information listed on the payment stub. If you pay your bills online, in person or over the phone, you may be able to avoid this problem.

Another way hackers may steal your card information by mail is by giving you a fake special offer. They may inform you that you have won a prize or a trip, and the company needs a check, money order or credit card number to secure your prize. The moment you send that return letter in the mail, you give them the tools they need to steal your information.

Phone Calls

You may receive a phone call from someone trying to take your credit card information. This person may be alerting you about a possible issue with your credit score, even if one does not exist. The movie Identity Theft portrays this process quite accurately. Callers may tell you about a delinquent bill that you need to pay right away in order to keep your account active. Never give out your personal or account information on any phone call unless you have initiated that phone call to a trusted company and verified phone number.

Don’t let yourself fall victim to identity theft. Keep your financial data private as much as possible, and monitor your accounts regularly. Alert the proper authorities at the first sign of trouble.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of October 1, 2014. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.


About John H. Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers credit card rate issues for
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