How do cybercriminals steal credit card information?

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.

1. Phishing

Can a website steal your credit card info? 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 your issuing bank or credit card company calls and says they need to verify your credit card activity with some personal information and starts off by asking for your credit card number. Alternatively, a phishing email posing as a retailer offering you a discount or free items could be trying to trick you into giving up account details.

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How do cybercriminals steal credit card information?

How to prevent: The best way to prevent phishing scams -- whether via email, phone or text -- is to never give up any personal or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. Also, go directly to a retailer's website to conduct business to ensure you control all transactions.

2. Malware and spyware

Be careful what you download.

Accidentally downloading malware or spyware can enable hackers to access information stored on your computer, including credit card information and other details. Malware may include a keylogger that records your keystrokes or browser history and then sends that information to a hacker.

How to prevent: Avoid downloading attachments, unless they come from a trusted source, and be wary of the programs you download and install on any of your devices. Also, use antivirus software that catches malware before it infects your computer.

3. Skimming

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.

How to prevent: Inspect outdoor credit card readers for signs they may have been tampered with before using them.

How to prevent: Make sure your financial institution has adequate safeguards in place, including encryption.

How to prevent: Shield keypads with paperwork, body or by cupping your hand.

4. Data breaches

High-profile data breaches -- the ones we hear about -- have, unfortunately, become fairly common over the last few years. And with the amount of data stored online, it represents another avenue for hackers to steal credit card, financial and other kinds of personal information. According to Statista, the 1,473 data breaches in the U.S. in 2019 led to the exposure of nearly 165 million personal data records, a trend that showed no signs of slowing down in 2020.

How to prevent: One way to mitigate the possibility of becoming a victim of a data breach is to use a virtual credit card that enables 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, obtain a copy of your credit report and be extra vigilant of suspicious credit card activity.

5. Public Wi-Fi networks

Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks carry some danger if you enter sensitive information when connected to them. While airport or hotel Wi-Fi can be convenient, precautions should be taken to protect against losing credit card and other sensitive information. Furthermore, should "Free Public Wi-Fi" show up on your device, it may actually be a hacker on a nearby smartphone or laptop attempting to get unsuspecting users to sign on so they can steal your personal information.

How to prevent: Don't conduct sensitive business while connected to public networks. If you need to access 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

While it may seem old-fashioned, criminals can dig through your garbage to find credit card statements, account information and more that they can use to their advantage.

How to prevent: Opt to receive credit card statements via email. If you do receive paper statements in any form, shred them after you've stopped using them.

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