Fact Check

Credit Card Scams

E-mail chronicles various ways scammers might obtain your credit card numbers.

Published Feb. 21, 2005


Claim:   E-mail chronicles various ways scammers might obtain your credit card numbers.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2004]

Good Information

This was just passed on to me. Seems to make a lot of sense. IT COULD CERTAINLY HAPPEN TO ME EASILY ENOUGH......

SCENE 1: A friend went to the local gym and placed his belongings in the locker. After the workout and a shower, he came out, saw the locker open, and thought to himself, "Funny, I thought I locked the locker. Hmmmmm."

He dressed

and just flipped the wallet to make sure all was in order. Everything looked okay — all cards were in place. A few weeks later his credit card bill came — a whooping bill of $14.000! He called the credit card company and started yelling at them, saying that he did not make the transactions. Customer care personnel verified that there was no mistake in the system and asked if his card had been stolen. "No," he said, but then took out his wallet, pulled out the credit card, and yep, you guessed it, a switch had been made. An expired similar credit card from the same bank was in the wallet. The thief broke into his locker at the gym and switched cards.

Verdict: The credit card issuer said since he did not report the card missing earlier, he would have to pay the amount owed to them. How much did he have to pay for items he did not buy? $9,000! Why were there no calls made to verify the amount swiped? Small amounts rarely trigger a "warning bell" with some credit card companies. It just so happens that all the small amounts added up to big one!

SCENE 2: A man at a local restaurant paid for his meal with his credit card. The bill for the meal came, he signed it, and the waitress folded the receipt and passed the credit card along. Usually, he would just take it and place it in his wallet or pocket. Funny enough, though, he actually took a look at the card and, lo and behold, it was the expired card of another person. He called the waitress and she looked perplexed. She took it back, apologized, and hurried back to the counter under the watchful eye of the man. All the waitress did while walking to the counter was wave the wrong expired card to the counter cashier, and the counter cashier immediately looked down and took out the real card. No exchange of words — nothing! She took it and came back to the man with an apology.

Verdict: Make sure the credit cards in your wallet are yours. Check the name on the card every time you sign for something and/or the card is taken away for even a short period of time. Many people just take back the credit card without even looking at it, thinking that it has to be theirs.


SCENE 3: Yesterday I went into a pizza restaurant to pick up an order that I had called in. I paid by using my Visa Check Card which, of course, is linked directly to my checking account. The young man behind the counter took my card, swiped it, then laid it flat on the counter as he waited for the approval, which is pretty standard procedure. While he waited, he picked up his cell phone and started dialing. I noticed the phone because it is the same model I have, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Then I heard a click that sounded like my phone sounds when I take a picture. He then gave me back my card but kept the phone in his hand as if he was still pressing buttons. Meanwhile, I'm thinking: I wonder what he is taking a picture of, oblivious to what was really going on. It then dawned on me: the only thing there was as my credit card, so now I'm paying close attention to what he is doing.

He set his phone on the counter, leaving it open. About five seconds later, I heard the chime that tells you that the picture has been saved. Now I'm standing there struggling with the fact that this boy just took a picture of my credit card. Yes, he played it off well, because had we not had the same kind of phone, I probably would never have known what happened. Needless to say, I immediately canceled that card as I was walking out of the pizza parlor.

All I am saying is, be aware of your surroundings at all times. Whenever you are using your credit cards, take caution and don't be careless. Notice who is standing near you and what they are doing when you use your card. Be aware of phones because many have a camera phone these days. When you are in a restaurant and the waiter/waitress brings your card and receipt for you to sign, make sure you scratch the number off.

Some restaurants are using only the last four digits, but a lot of them are still putting the whole thing on there. I have already been a victim of credit card fraud and, believe me, it is not fun. The truth is that they can get you even when you are careful, so don't make it easy for them.



Origins:   The

Credit cards

item quoted above is another example of a "crime warning" message that is difficult to classify as either true or false. The scenarios it describes are possible, and someone, somewhere, might very well have been victimized by them, but on the other hand the message provides no details of time, place, or person, to use in verifying these tales, and the scenarios proffered are generally too implausible to be of much legitimate concern to the average person.

The first two entries describe scammers who supposedly switch expired credit cards for valid credit cards, thereby enabling them to run up thousands of dollars in charges before the victims realize their cards are missing. This isn't a scheme likely to be successful in most cases, for a number of reasons:

  • Not all credit cards look alike. Common credit cards such as VISA and MasterCard vary quite widely in appearance, featuring different logos (based upon the issuing financial institutions), different colors of plastic, and even different (customer-selected) background designs. For this scenario to work, the putative thieves would have to carry around a plethora of different styles of cards and hope to hit a long shot by coincidentally matching one of their cards to a victim's particular style card.
  • The deception would be obvious the next time the victim used (or, presumably, even looked at) his card, which wouldn't give the scammers much time to try to run up a huge charge on the stolen card via many small purchases. Contrary to the claim made above, most credit card issuers will flag as suspect thousands of dollars' worth of charges made on a credit card within a short period of time, even if none of those charges are for large amounts.
  • Also contrary to a claim made above, a credit card customer could not be held liable for $9,000 worth of charges made to a stolen credit card, whether he reported the card stolen or not. According to the Federal Trade Commission, under federal law a credit card holder's maximum liability for any unauthorized credit card use is $50. (If the cardholder reports the loss before the credit card is used, he cannot be held responsible for any unauthorized charges at all.) If the loss involves the credit card number, but not the card itself, the cardholder also has no liability for unauthorized use.
  • Frankly, if you're habitually leaving your wallet unattended in an easily-opened locker, you've got a lot more to be concerned about than potential visits from card-swapping scammers.

The third scenario covers a situation we've already written an article about, that of identity thieves supposedly snapping pictures of credit cards with cell phone cameras. This scheme too is possible but implausible, since:

  • It's still quite difficult (given the quality of cell phone cameras, the reflectiveness of plastic credit cards, and the usual lack of contrast between the colors of a card's imprinted numbers and its background) to quickly snap off a clear photo of a credit card.
  • Taking a picture of the front of a credit card won't capture the CVC2 or CVV2 security code required for most CNP (i.e., "card not present") purchases. (American Express, however, is an exception to this, as their security codes are printed on the cardfaces.)
  • Retail clerks and others who typically handle customers' credit cards in the course of business transactions have many, many ways of recording card numbers that are better and easier (and less obtrusive) than literally pointing a camera at a card and taking a picture of it.

The admonition to "take caution and don't be careless" with your credit cards is generally sound, but then again, it's also rather obvious advice that applies to just about every aspect of life.

Last updated:   22 July 2011

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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