By Jill Jaracz


5 Min. To Read

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Credit card fraud is no laughing matter, and it's likely that many Americans will have to deal with the theft of their credit card information. According to, ten percent of Americans have been victims of credit card fraud. But just how do credit card thieves steal your information, and how do they use it?

It can be relatively easy to find out a person's credit card information. The Department of Justice notes that one simple way criminals get people's card numbers is simply by paying attention. If you're out in public and say your credit card number over the phone, they can hear you. Likewise, if you punch the number into your phone in public, it's relatively easy for a thief to look over your shoulder and watch you do it.

The Department of Justice also says that some criminals do partake in dumpster diving, where they go through trash to get copies of financial records or preapproved credit card offers. They may even try to intercept your mail if it's easy to access.

You can take simple preventative measures to fight these efforts. When you're in a public area, be aware of your surroundings when you're giving your credit card number out loud or keying it into a phone. Shield your mouth or keypad to prevent prying eyes and ears from capitalizing on your identity. Also be sure to shred or thoroughly tear up account statements and credit card offers before throwing them away.

However, many credit card thieves have gone high tech and employ sophisticated ways to steal credit card numbers. One way they've succeeded is by attacking a payment method that makes your life easier: Paying at the gas station pump.

Identity thieves use small skimming devices that they plant inside the gas pump. As customers use the pump, the skimmer reads the number and either stores the number on a memory chip or, if the device is Bluetooth-enabled, can be captured remotely.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit in California discovered that thieves get access to the inside of the pumps because while the pumps are locked, most of them across the country can be opened with one master key. This key was meant for pump inspectors and maintenance workers to have easy access to the pumps, but copies have gotten into the wrong hands.

Skimmers aren't just in use at the gas pumps. Restaurant servers and retail cashiers can also use pocket-sized skimmers to get your information.

While it's not necessarily convenient, the easiest way to prevent your card from being skimmed is to pay cash. You can also use your credit card inside a gas station, which would cut the likelihood of skimming. At a restaurant or retail location, if you can watch the employee use your card, that helps. Tableside card readers and terminals at cash registers where you can swipe the card yourself can also cut down on this fraud.

Information breaches at retailers are another way that credit card information gets into the wrong hands. Hackers can break into a company's computer system and steal hundreds upon thousands of credit card numbers. The hackers themselves may not use your credit card number. Quite often the numbers are sold and resold online, and the person that actually uses your account to make a purchase could be far removed from the actual person who stole your number.

Card thieves also look to online shopping sites to help them steal numbers, and unsecured websites are easy targets for thieves. When you're shopping, make sure the checkout screen has a verified secure connection and an up-to-date SSL certificate. You can find these by looking for a lock icon in the address bar on the payment page. Some retailers may also mention the security payment feature on the page itself.

Even though you can take precautions with your credit card number, you may still find yourself the target of identity theft. Still, being aware of how your information is being sent out and checking your credit card statements can help you mitigate this fraud as much as possible.

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