How a Thief Uses Credit Cards

Credit card fraud totals more than £325 million annually, according to anti-fraud website. Various types of fraud contribute to this amount, such as accounts opened through identity theft and tricking the consumer into authorising fraudulent charges. Credit card theft is a large portion of the annual losses.


There are several forms of credit card theft. A criminal can physically steal your credit card, either on its own or in conjunction with stealing your purse or wallet. The thief can also get your credit card number by observing you while you make purchases or by "skimming" the card through a special machine that allows your information to transfer to a dummy card. You accidentally give your credit card to a fraudulent phone caller or in response to a phishing e-mail that claims to be from your bank. You can even download malicious software without realising it. It will steal your account information and transmit it to the criminals.


The thief will use your credit card or information to make fraudulent purchases and get cash advances. He may use it in stores if he stole the actual card. Most merchants do not ask for identification, so he can easily pretend to be you. He may also use a credit card in his own name created by "skimming" your card. The magnetic strip will contain your information rather than his. He can make online purchases whether he has the card or just the number. He will have the items shipped to a different address, which often belongs to a vacant home or mailbox rental firm.

Time Frame

Thieves typically use credit cards as quickly as possible. They want to get as much merchandise or money as they can before you discover the theft, report the card stolen, and deactivate the card. They can max out your card within only a day or two if you remain unaware of the theft.


You are only liable for up to £32 in fraudulent credit card charges made by a thief, and your bank may waive this if you are a good customer. However, the impact on your credit report can cause ongoing problems. Prevent the situation by running anti-malware software on your computer and never giving information to phone callers. Make store clerks keep your credit card in sight when using it for a purchase, advises Harris County, TX, Assistant District Attorney John Brewer. Additionally, put it away immediately after the transaction. Keep close track of your purse and wallet whenever you are out. Review your credit card statements every few days if you can bring them up online. Otherwise, go through your monthly hard copy very carefully, looking for suspicious items. The Fair Credit Reporting Act lets you get free credit reports every year. Order them through the official website and search for any unfamiliar accounts or other discrepancies that could indicate theft or fraud.


Thieves will sometimes pretend to help you with credit card fraud when it's really a ruse to steal your information, warns Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett. You may receive a telephone call stating someone has made suspicious purchases with your card. Some of these calls are legitimate, but some are by scammers. Never give your account information to any caller, no matter who she claims to be or what your caller ID box says. A legitimate caller from a fraud department will already have your information. Hang up and call your credit card issuer at the customer service number on the back of your card if you think the initial call to be legitimate.

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About the Author

Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."

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