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NEW YORK ( — Credit card theft has become a big problem in America. Researchers estimate that 10% of Americans have been victims of credit card fraud. The switch to chip-and-PIN technology should reduce these rates dramatically, but for now, the threat is still very real. Listed below, in no particular order, are the top five ways credit card numbers are stolen.

Data breaches

The massive Target credit card breach in late 2013 helped turn data hacks into one of the most prominent consumer issues in the United States. The most recent example of these hacks is with Home Depot, which affected approximately 56 million credit and debit cards.

In the case of a data breach, a hacker or a team of hackers will use malicious software or "malware" to log into a company's stored credit card information. There are also rare instances where someone who works for the company or has access to company files will steal card information manually while on the job. This information may include cards' numbers, expiration dates and security codes, depending on how the company stores and encrypts the data.

Card skimmers

Credit card skimming is another way card numbers are stolen. In this case, a small device is inserted into an ATM or credit card reader to store information when a card is swiped. A waiter at a restaurant may use a skimmer to steal card information when he takes a customer's card to pay for a meal.

Skimming devices are designed to be small and discreet - you would not notice them unless you were specifically looking for a skimmer. They may be accompanied by a camera somewhere above the keypad so the hackers can track PINs associated with debit cards. The information from the skimmer is collected by either manually removing the skimmer from the machine or transmitting the information through Bluetooth to a phone or tablet.


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Identity thieves may steal card information through fraudulent emails. There are many types of emails that lead to card theft, but phishing emails are usually the biggest culprits. These emails are designed to look like they are from a legitimate company, one you may be familiar with or frequently visit. The emails will direct you to a fake website that looks almost identical to the real site. When you enter your login details or your card number, the phishers have captured your data.

Never click on a link that comes to you in an unsolicited email. If you need to do anything online, go to the actual website and log in. Also, contact the company if you get suspicious emails.


Stealing credit card information through the mail may be considered old school, but crooks do it all the time. In some instances, a thief will actually take mail out of your mailbox to steal checks or account information listed on a payment stub. If you pay your bills online, in person or over the phone, you may be able to avoid this problem.

Another way hackers may steal card information by mail is by giving you a fake special offer. They may say you have won a prize or a trip and the company needs a check, money order or credit card number to secure your prize. The moment you send that return letter in the mail, you give them the tools they need to steal your information.

Phone calls

You may get a phone call from someone trying to take your card information - possibly alerting you about a possible issue with your credit score, even if one does not exist. (The 2013 movie Identity Theft with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy portrays this process quite accurately.) Callers may tell you about a delinquent bill you need to pay right away to keep your account active. Never give out your personal or account information on any phone call unless you have initiated that phone call to a trusted company and verified phone number.

Don't let yourself fall victim to identity theft. Keep your financial data private as much as possible, and monitor your accounts regularly. And alert the proper authorities at the first sign of trouble.

By Bill Hardekopf for MainStreet