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Stolen Credit Card Numbers

Last Updated: February 19, 2024
4 min read

Key points about: stolen credit card numbers

  1. There are several ways people steal credit card numbers, including through your mail, email, public Wi-Fi networks, and data breaches.

  2. Keep careful watch of your credit card statements, credit report, and personal information so you can act quickly if you see any suspicious activity.

  3. If your card information is stolen, immediately alert your credit card issuer.

Having your credit card number stolen can be a disturbing experience. Understanding the tools that thieves may use to access your personal data could help you keep your information safe. Here’s how people steal credit card numbers and what you can do to protect your card.

How do credit card numbers get stolen?

How do people steal credit card numbers? Here are six well-known ways: 

Personal documents

While online protection is vital, you should also protect yourself from old-fashioned hazards—like paperwork. Someone could take sensitive documents like bills and bank statements from your mailbox or even your garbage. Information like the last four digits of your account number, your Social Security number, full name and address, and transaction information could leave you vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.


Phishing emails and phone calls are common tactics that trick people into sharing sensitive personal and financial information, such as credit card and Social Security numbers. These scams usually work by convincing victims to either offer up that information directly or click a bad link that installs malware on their computers.

If someone calls or emails you claiming to be a financial institution requesting personal information urgently, it’s most likely not legitimate. Most financial institutions never ask you to send your information via email or phone. Keep an eye out for generic email addresses that have misspellings, or otherwise don’t appear to come from your financial service provider. Likewise, always confirm the phone number if a financial institution calls you. Unaffiliated email addresses and phone numbers often point to phishing.


Malware is a type of phishing software designed to take your information, access your network, or otherwise disrupt your use of a device, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be careful what you click on, as typically, cybercriminals trick users into installing malware themselves through unsafe links. One type of malware records every keystroke, including your credit card number, as you type it into an order form. Don’t download anything on your computer unless you have validated or otherwise trust where it’s coming from.

Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is awfully handy, but it can open you up to the possibility of fraud. Public networks are unsecured, which leaves your information vulnerable to many security breaches. Don’t open sensitive documents or financial websites on public networks, as hackers can use these networks to access your account numbers and passwords.

Card skimmers

According to the FBI, card skimmers are devices that may (covertly and illegally) attach to ATMs or other payment terminals to capture the digital information embedded in credit cards. The perpetrator may use that information to create fake debit or credit cards or otherwise access your data. 

Data breaches

A data breach occurs when an unauthorized person accesses sensitive or protected data. Often, hackers access customer or client data from large institutions such as banks or retailers. They might sell information like credit card numbers, names, passwords, and Social Security numbers. Alternatively, they might use it themselves to commit fraud or identity theft.

What you can do to help protect your credit card information from being stolen

A few extra security measures could make your credit card numbers less vulnerable. To protect your documents, make sure you shred (or rip up) sensitive paperwork before throwing it away, and consider locking your mailbox. Take caution when interacting with your emails, especially when opening documents or clicking links. Take some extra time to find an indoor, well-lit ATM or check for suspicious devices. Watch the news for data breaches at big companies—they happen more than you might think.

Some services may increase your security by alerting you to changes in your credit reports, new bank accounts in your name, and more. With Discover®, you can get additional protection that monitors your personal information at thousands of data sources for just $15/mo.1 You must have a Discover® Card to enroll.

Most credit cards now use chip technology and a magnetic strip, as chips are more difficult to steal data from. However, the switch hasn’t eliminated credit card fraud or identity theft. It’s important to keep your eyes on your credit card statements, credit report, and credit score, so you’ll be aware of any sudden changes that could indicate identity theft.

What to do if your credit card information is stolen

According to the FTC, federal law limits the amount of money you’re liable for in case of a lost or stolen card. However, your protections depend on how quickly you report the missing card.

Many card companies also offer cardmembers protection and limit their liability for losses. If your credit card information is stolen, ensure your credit card issuer is immediately aware of the problem.

Did you know?

If you’re a Discover® Cardmember, you’re covered under the $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee. That means you’re never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover Card account.2

The FTC recommends that consumers also let the three major credit reporting agencies know about a stolen card or other fraud. Then, they should file an initial fraud alert on their credit files. The FTC has published a detailed consumer-friendly guide to handling many forms of identity theft and fraud.

Millions of American consumers have had their credit card numbers stolen. Stay alert to the possibility that it could happen to you, even after taking every precaution. Having a plan to take action quickly may limit your losses and help you regain control.

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  1. Identity Theft Protection:This product can only be agreed upon, purchased and delivered online. It is optional and voluntary. Key changes include: New accounts, credit inquiries, address changes, potentially negative information such as delinquencies, new public records Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). 175 Water Street, New York, New York 10038. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.
  2. $0 Fraud Liability: An “unauthorized purchase” is a purchase where you have not given access to your card information to another person or a merchant for one-time or repeated charges. Please use reasonable care to protect your card and do not share it with employees, relatives, or friends. Learn more at Discover.com/fraudFAQ.
  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.