How do hackers steal credit card information?
Given the exponential growth of e-commerce and online transactions, cyber security has never been more critical. Hackers can attempt to invade our privacy in a number of ways, but one area they find particularly tempting is credit card information. Stolen credit cards can negatively affect not only your finances, but also your personal identity and privacy. Effective protection of them and the data associated with them is essential in the electronic world.
In this article, we delve into how cybercriminals can steal your credit card information, highlight best practices that can keep you safe, and explain what to do if your credit card is compromised.
6 Common Ways Credit Card Information Is Stolen
Hackers can steal credit and debit card information in a variety of ways, using both online and offline methods.
Can a website steal your credit card information? The short answer is yes.
With phishing, hackers attempt to steal valuable information by impersonating a trusted source. Phishing schemes can come in several different forms, including phone calls, fake websites and sales emails.
For example, someone pretending to be from the issuing bank or credit card company calls and says they need to verify your credit card activity with some personal information and starts by asking for your credit card number. Alternatively, a phishing email pretending to be a retailer offering you a discount or free items may try to trick you into giving up account details.
How to prevent: The best way to prevent phishing scams—whether by email, phone, or text—is to never give out personal or credit card information unless you’ve initiated the contact. Also, go directly to a merchant’s website to conduct business to ensure you control all transactions.
2. Malicious software and spyware
Be careful what you download.
Accidentally downloading malware or spyware can allow hackers to access information stored on your computer, including credit card information and other details. Malware can include a keylogger that records keystrokes or browsing history and then sends this information to a hacker.
How to prevent: Avoid downloading attachments, unless they come from a trusted source, and be careful about the programs you download and install on any of your devices. Also, use antivirus software that catches malware before it infects your computer.
Credit card skimming is a popular offline method used by criminals to steal personal information, which can also lead to identity theft, at a point of sale.
- Card readers at ATMs, gas station pumps and elsewhere can be tampered with to add skimming devices. These fake readers collect and forward payment information to the thieves, who then clone the cards and use them as they see fit.
How to prevent: Inspect outdoor credit card readers for characters that may have been tampered with before using them.
- RFID skimming uses radio frequency identification technology to wirelessly capture RFID chip-based credit, debit and ID information directly from cards or even from smartphones and tablets. They use near-field communication-enabled devices to capture unencrypted data from the card or a device’s RFID chip to steal card details, such as numbers, expiration dates, and cardholder names.
How to prevent: Make sure your financial institution has adequate security measures in place, including encryption.
- Shoulder surfing is a form of skimming that does not involve specialized technology. A thief simply watches a user enter their code into an ATM or credit card information into a phone. This can be done nearby (over the shoulder) or far away, for example through binoculars.
How to prevent: Protect the keyboards with paperwork, body or by cutting the hand.
4. Data breach
High-profile data breaches — the ones we hear about — have unfortunately become quite common in recent years. And with the amount of data stored online, it represents another avenue for hackers to steal credit card, financial and other types of personal information. According to Statista, the 1,473 data breaches in the United States in 2019 led to the exposure of nearly 165 million personal data records, a trend that showed no signs of abating in 2020.
How to prevent: One way to reduce the possibility of becoming a victim of a data breach is to use a virtual credit card that allows you to check out at e-commerce stores without including your credit card information. If you become a victim, steps you should take include freezing your credit, placing a fraud alert on it, and replacing the card affected by the breach. Also, get a copy of your credit report and be extra vigilant about suspicious credit card activity.
5. Public Wi-Fi networks
Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks pose a certain risk if you provide sensitive information while connected to them. While airport or hotel Wi-Fi can be convenient, precautions should be taken to protect against losing credit cards and other sensitive information. Furthermore, should “Free Public Wi-Fi” appear on your device, it could actually be a hacker on a nearby smartphone or laptop trying to get unsuspecting users to sign in so they can steal your personal information.
How to prevent: Do not conduct sensitive business while connected to public networks. If you need access to these networks, use a VPN. Otherwise, stick to trusted authenticated access points and service set identifiers or use your wireless cellular data connection.
6. Your trash
Although it may seem old-fashioned, criminals can dig through your trash to find credit card statements, account information, and more that they can use to their advantage.
How to prevent: Choose to receive credit card statements by email. If you receive paper printouts in any form, please shred them after you stop using them.
Best practices for protecting credit card data
Cybercriminals can choose from a variety of methods to get your credit card. Here are some tips to prevent that from happening.
1. Monitor credit reports
Credit monitoring and identity security services like LifeLock keep you updated on your credit card activity. They can also help you get ahead of any fraudulent activity faster than if you manually checked your prints.
2. Monitor bank accounts and review credit card statements for suspicious activity
Manually checking credit reports and monitoring Equifax, Experian or TransUnion for purchases you don’t remember making can alert you to strange transactions and suspicious activity.
3. Set up alerts to notify you of suspicious activity
Alerts from your bank via text messages, push notifications and/or email can help you identify suspicious transactions soon after they happen.
4. Use antivirus software and VPNs
If you connect to public networks, it’s helpful to use a VPN to protect yourself from malware and hackers. Not to mention, antivirus software can protect you if you accidentally download malicious malware.
5. Check websites for a secure URL
When visiting a website, but especially when conducting online transactions, make sure the URL includes https:// and is secure.
6. Do not store credit card information on websites
It can be tempting to store your credit card information on Google or on e-commerce sites you visit. However, you should consider avoiding this practice, as it potentially gives hackers access to your personal information in the event of a data breach.
7. Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication
Another way to avoid being exposed after a data breach is to use strong passwords that contain a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Two-factor authentication can provide an extra layer of security to protect you. Consider using it when offered.
8. Don’t write down your credit card information anywhere
Finally, avoid writing your credit card number, PIN, expiration date, etc. anywhere or posting pictures of your credit card number online.
What do you do if your credit card information is stolen?
Following the best practices in this article will help keep your credit card information out of harm’s way. However, nothing is foolproof. So you may need to take action if your information is stolen.
Here’s what you should do.
1. Contact your credit card issuer
Calling your bank or credit card company is the first step you should take if you suspect your card has been stolen or compromised. This can prevent further damage and help you avoid liability for fraudulent purchases. Your credit card issuer will cancel your card and issue a new one.
2. Update your passwords
Between computer hacks, malware, and public Wi-Fi networks, hackers can use several online methods to steal your credit card and personal information. Updating your passwords on all websites you regularly visit can prevent them from accessing this data.
3. Review and dispute credit reports
Even after you cancel your credit card, there may still be some transactions you’re not aware of. Continue to monitor your credit reports so you can dispute suspicious transactions.
Credit cards are a common target for cybercriminals, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Being aware of the methods they use to steal personal information — especially credit card data, but also other details that can lead to identity theft, among other things — is the first step toward protecting yourself.
Being aware of the methods they use to steal credit card data, in particular, but also other types of personal information that can lead to identity theft, among other things, is the first step towards protecting yourself. Implement the best practices in this article to keep your credit information safe and take a more active role in preventing yourself from becoming a victim of fraud.