No one wants to become the victim of a credit card scam. Unfortunately, the truth is that credit card fraud may be more prevalent than most Americans think — and it isn’t only the elderly who are being targeted. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of scam victims under the age of 20 rose by more than 1,000%.
Awareness of some of the most common credit card scams and how they operate can help consumers avoid these fraud cases. In fact, monitoring and protecting accounts against fraud is an important way of protecting credit scores. The following are credit card scams consumers may run into.
Overcharge scams are a common form of fraud that usually begin with an unsolicited phishing attempt to obtain a credit card holder’s personal information. In this scam, which is often performed through text messaging, a fraudster sends a message to their victim claiming that the recipient’s account has been overcharged.
The scammer may claim to be from a legitimate company that the victim has made purchases from — for example, common subscription services such as AT&T or Netflix. When the victim replies, the scammer will solicit their credit card information under the guise of processing a refund.
To avoid this scam, credit card holders should know that legitimate companies do not usually urge customers to provide sensitive personal information over the phone or via an unsecured online platform. Those who receive this type of “cold call” should begin by checking their credit card statement to see if they can identify the illegitimate charge.
In most cases, there will be no such charge, and consumers can safely delete and block the scammer. If there is a charge but the cardholder doesn’t believe it is accurate, they should contact the merchant directly to discuss the situation.
Security Breach Scams
Visa warns customers of a similar phishing scam designed to get their credit card information. In this scam, the victim receives a phone call from someone purporting to be from Visa’s security and fraud department. The caller claims that a suspicious charge has appeared on the victim’s account and asks the victim to verify that they did not make the purchase. Often, the fraudster has some of the victim’s personal information, which makes the call sound legitimate. However, they tell the victim that in order to process a refund, they’ll need the three-digit security number from the back of the card to confirm that the victim is, in fact, the cardholder.
LSS Financial Counseling adds that the scammer might give Visa’s real phone number for the victim to call if they have questions about the investigation. But by the time the individual does, the fraudster has already made a purchase using the card.
Skimming, another common credit card scam, can be difficult to avoid because it does not involve easy-to-spot phishing attempts. Skimmers hack payment readers by installing data-collection devices onto them that collect card information without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
Most scammers install these devices on ATMs and payment machines that are unlikely to be monitored, such as machines at gas stations or those located behind buildings and away from streetlamps. When a victim inserts their credit card into the bugged machine, it records their credit card information, and they walk away unaware that they were the victim of a crime.
Spotting a skimming attempt can be challenging. Credit card skimming has continued beyond the introduction of EMV cards, and many skimming devices can now be placed inside of the machine itself.
Credit card owners should be aware of risky places to swipe their cards and examine any payment machine they use. They should look for mismatched graphics and fonts that do not match the rest of the machine. Individuals should also cover their hands while entering their pin codes. Using a mobile payment option like Apple Pay, which doesn’t require swiping, can also help users avoid skimming.
Arrest scams are another common credit card fraud tactic that tricks victims into sending scammers money to pay off an imagined debt. During an arrest scam, the criminal will contact the victim, fraudulently claiming to be a member of law enforcement. The scammer may say they are a member of a legitimate government office — like the FBI or IRS — or they may vaguely refer to themselves as “local police.”
The fraudster claims that there is a warrant issued for the arrest of the victim if they do not immediately pay back a fictitious fine, debt or court-ordered judgment. Once the victim responds, the scammer will urge them to either offer their credit card information or face arrest.
Credit card holders should know that the U.S. government will only legally summon citizens through written documentation. Even if an individual does have a legitimate warrant out for their arrest, local police will never call a wanted suspect to inform them of an active warrant over the phone.
Instead, an officer typically serves physical documents in person. Federal and state law enforcement will also never demand credit card information over the phone.
What To Do If You Get Scammed
The Federal Trade Commission advises credit card users who notice fraudulent activity on their balance statements to immediately contact the card issuer to report that the charge was fraudulent and ask to have the transaction reversed and any payments returned. Most credit cards include clauses in their terms indicating that the customer is not responsible for any charges made to the account that the cardholder did not authorize.
It’s also a good idea to report the scam to the FTC. The commission says it can use the information in your report to build a case against scammers, spot trends, educate the public and share data about what’s happening in your community. If you’ve been scammed or have spotted a scam, you can report it on the fraud reporting page of the FTC website.
There are multiple ways that cardholders can protect themselves against future fraud. For one, they should review their credit reports to identify any areas of potential fraud. If users notice an unauthorized item on their credit report, they should contact each of the three main credit reporting bureaus individually to dispute and remove each fraudulent transaction.
Individuals may also want to put a transaction alert on the compromised credit card for a while after the incidence of fraud. This alert will tell credit card holders every time a new purchase is made with the card, allowing them to immediately catch and report any future fraud on their account.
Credit Card Scam FAQsHere are some commonly asked questions about credit card fraud.
- How do credit card scams happen?
- Credit card scams occur when someone other than an authorized user on a credit card account accesses the card and uses it to make purchases. Most scams happen after a criminal phishes the cardholder's data by tricking them into providing their credit card information over the phone, text or email.
- How can someone use my credit card without having it?
- Criminals can ruin the hard work a cardholder has made to build their credit. Unfortunately, the only things scammers need to use a credit card are the card number, the security code on the back of the card and the primary cardholder's zip code. Once scammers collect all of this information over the phone or email, they can easily use it to make purchases online or over the phone.
Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.
Information is accurate as of Jan. 24, 2023.