image illustrating how cybercriminals steal credit card information from a laptop in 2023.

How Do Cybercriminals Steal Credit Card Information? (2023)

Did you know that by the end of 2023, an estimated 150 million citizens in the US will be affected by credit card fraud?

Credit card fraud is projected to cost businesses and consumers billions of dollars globally. As our world becomes increasingly digital, credit cards have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. They offer convenience, rewards, and a sense of financial freedom. However, with this convenience comes a significant risk: the threat of credit card theft. As technology advances, so do the methods criminals employ to steal our sensitive financial information.

The alarming rise in identity theft, especially in credit card fraud, underscores the urgency of understanding and countering these threats. In this article, we’ll explore how do cybercriminals steal credit card information and arm you with knowledge to safeguard your financial well-being.

How Do Cybercriminals Steal Credit Card Information – Traditional Methods

Image under 'Traditional Methods' showing graphics of a credit card being stolen, highlighting how cybercriminals steal credit card information.

Physical Theft

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, the most straightforward threats can be the most dangerous. Physical theft of credit cards, as old-fashioned as it might sound, remains a significant concern even in our tech-driven world.

In crowded places like markets or public transport, a momentary lapse in attention can be all a pickpocket needs. They don’t require the technical know-how of a hacker, just the right opportunity to steal your physical credit card. Once they have your card, they can start making purchases, often before you even realize it’s gone.

How can we combat physical theft threats?

Awareness is the first line of defense. Being conscious of your surroundings and keeping your belongings secure can deter potential thieves. And if you do find yourself a victim, reporting the theft immediately and monitoring your accounts can minimize the damage.

Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving involves criminals searching through trash to find discarded receipts, statements, or any other documents that might contain credit card details.

While many of us are vigilant about our online security, we often overlook the importance of properly disposing of physical documents. A discarded credit card statement or an old receipt can provide a thief with just enough information to commit fraud.

Why is Dumpster Diving Effective?

  • Ease of Access: Unlike hacking into a secure database, rummaging through trash requires no technical skills.
  • Complacency: Many people believe that once something is thrown away, it’s gone for good. This mindset can lead to carelessness when discarding documents.

How can we prevent Dumpster diving theft?

The most effective way to prevent this type of theft is by shredding personal documents before disposal. Investing in a cross-cut shredder can turn sensitive documents into confetti, making it nearly impossible for thieves to piece information together.

Additionally, consider going paperless with your statements and bills. Not only is this environmentally friendly, but it also reduces the risk of your information ending up in the wrong hands.

Mail Theft

In this digital era, it’s easy to forget the importance of physical mail. However, mail theft remains a significant concern, especially regarding sensitive financial information. Criminals often target mailboxes, hoping to find credit card statements, new cards, or other valuable information that can be used for fraudulent activities.

Why Mail Theft is Still Relevant

While many transactions and communications have moved online, several essential documents are still sent via traditional mail. Banks, for instance, often send new credit cards, PINs, and statements through the post. For a thief, a single mail can provide enough information to wreak havoc on someone’s financial life.

Preventive Measures Against Mail Theft

  1. Secure Mailbox: Consider investing in a lockable mailbox or using a post office box.
  2. Mail Hold: If you’re traveling or won’t be home for an extended period, request a mail hold from your local post office.
  3. Electronic Statements: Opt for electronic statements when possible. This reduces the amount of sensitive information sent through the mail.
  4. Prompt Collection: Collect your mail promptly. The less time it spends in your mailbox, the less opportunity there is for theft.
  5. Report Suspicious Activity: If you notice any suspicious individuals or activities near mailboxes, report them to the local authorities.

How Do Cybercriminals Steal Credit Card Information – Digital Techniques

Image under 'Digital Techniques and Methods' depicting graphics of a credit card being stolen, illustrating how cybercriminals steal credit card information digitally.

The methods criminals employ to steal credit card information have evolved significantly. While traditional methods still pose threats, cyberattacks have become increasingly sophisticated, targeting unsuspecting individuals and even large corporations. Let’s explore digital techniques criminals use to get their hands on your credit card data.

Skimming and Carding

Skimming involves the use of discreet devices, often attached to ATMs or gas station pumps, that capture the details of a credit card when it’s swiped. These devices are meticulously designed to blend in, making them hard to spot for the untrained eye. Once the data is captured, criminals can clone the card or make unauthorized transactions online.

Carding, on the other hand, is a more underground activity. In the shady corners of the internet, forums exist where stolen credit card details are bought and sold. These forums are a hotbed for cybercriminal activity, with members sharing techniques and tools and even offering ‘services’ to verify if a card is active.

How can you protect yourself from skimming and carding?

  • Regularly inspect card readers, especially on ATMs and gas pumps, for any unusual devices or attachments.
  • Cover the keypad when entering your PIN.
  • Stay updated about the latest carding forums and their tactics.
  • Immediately alert your credit card company when you find a fraudulent charge.
  • Consider credit monitoring services to monitor your credit report regularly.

Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing attacks involve sending deceptive emails, messages, or calls pretending to be from reputable sources. These communications aim to trick individuals into providing personal details, including credit card information. For example, you receive an email claiming to be from your financial institution alerting you to suspicious activity. You click the link, log in, and later find out it was all a ruse.

In 2022, a widespread phishing campaign mimicked a popular online shopping platform, sending out emails about a “failed transaction” and urging users to click on a link to rectify the issue. Unsuspecting users who clicked on the link were taken to a fake login page where their credentials were stolen.

Social engineering goes beyond digital means. It’s the art of manipulating people into divulging confidential information. Whether through a convincing phone call or a seemingly innocent conversation, criminals can extract valuable data without the victim realizing they’ve been duped.

How to Spot and Protect Yourself

  • Always check the email sender’s address. Phishing emails might come from addresses that look suspicious or have slight misspellings.
  • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
  • If you receive an unexpected request for sensitive information, verify it by contacting the company or individual directly using official contact details, not the ones provided in the suspicious message.
  • Educate yourself about the latest phishing techniques and stay updated on recent scams.

Data Breaches

Data breaches have become a significant concern for individuals and businesses in recent years. These incidents involve unauthorized access to databases, often exposing sensitive information, including credit card details.

Several high-profile data breaches have made headlines over the past decade. For example, in 2023, companies like Twitter, T-Mobile, and OpenAi faced significant breaches, leading to the exposure of millions of credit card details. These incidents result in financial losses and damage the reputation of the affected companies.

Protecting Against Data Breach

  1. Regular Security Audits: Companies should conduct regular security audits to identify potential vulnerabilities in their systems.
  2. Employee Training: Human error is a significant factor in many breaches. Regular training sessions can educate employees about the latest threats and how to avoid them.
  3. Multi-Factor Authentication: Implementing multi-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security, making it harder for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access.
  4. Stay Updated: Keeping software and systems updated ensures that known vulnerabilities are patched, reducing the risk of breaches.
  5. Look for a reliable hosting provider like Host Duplex that offers regular backups and disaster recovery options to ensure that your data is safe and can be restored in the event of a breach.

What Consumers Can Do

For consumers, it’s essential to monitor their credit card statements regularly and report any suspicious activities. Additionally, using credit monitoring services can alert individuals to any unauthorized access or changes to their credit information.

Malware, Spyware, and Keyloggers

What is Malware?

Short for “malicious software,” malware is a broad term that encompasses various types of harmful software, including viruses, worms, and trojans. These malicious programs are designed to infiltrate, damage, or disable computers, computer systems, networks, tablets, and mobile devices. Often, they can secretly extract personal and financial information from the user’s device without their knowledge.

What is Spyware?

As the name suggests, spyware is software that spies on your computer activities. It can capture information like web browsing habits, passwords, and, most critically for our discussion, credit card details. The most alarming aspect of spyware is its ability to operate covertly. Users might not even know it’s there until it’s too late.

What are Keyloggers?

These are a type of spyware specifically designed to record the keystrokes of a user. Imagine every time you type out your credit card number, CVV, expiration date, or any other sensitive information, there’s a silent observer recording every keystroke. That’s a keylogger for you. They can be software-based or hardware-based, with the latter being physical devices plugged into a computer.

How do these malicious tools find their way onto devices?

  • Phishing emails: These deceptive emails trick users into downloading malicious attachments or visiting compromised websites.
  • Drive-by downloads: Merely visiting a malicious website, even without downloading or clicking anything, can install malware on your device.
  • Infected software installations: Downloading software from untrustworthy sources can come bundled with malware.

How can you protect yourself against these malicious tools?

To guard against these threats, it’s essential to have robust antivirus and anti-malware solutions installed on your devices. Regularly updating your software, being cautious about the emails you open, and downloading only from trusted sources can also significantly reduce the risk.

Public Wi-Fi Vulnerabilities

Public Wi-Fi networks, often found in places like coffee shops, airports, and hotels, offer great convenience for users on the go. But, as with many conveniences, there’s a hidden cost. These networks are often unsecured, making them a playground for cybercriminals.

Risks of Unsecured Networks

When you connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, you’re essentially broadcasting your online activities to anyone within range. This means that a hacker sitting across the room, or even in a car outside the building, can intercept the data you send and receive. This includes passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.

One common attack on public Wi-Fi networks is the “man-in-the-middle” attack. In this scenario, a hacker intercepts the communication between your device and the network. They can then eavesdrop on your activities, capture your data, or even redirect you to fake websites designed to steal your information.

How Can You Protect Yourself on Public Wi-Fi?

  • Always be cautious when using public Wi-Fi. If you must connect, avoid accessing sensitive accounts or conducting important transactions.
  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt your online activities, making it harder for hackers to intercept your data.
  • Always ensure the websites you visit use HTTPS, which encrypts the data between your device and the website.


Formjacking is a method where cyber attackers inject malicious code into online forms, primarily payment forms on e-commerce websites. When unsuspecting users fill out these forms, the malicious code secretly captures sensitive information, such as credit card details, and sends it to the attacker.

Imagine you’re shopping at your favorite online store. You’ve selected your items, proceeded to checkout, and are now entering your credit card details. Everything seems normal, but in the background, the formjacking code is silently skimming your credit card information. Cybercriminals may then sell this information or use it for fraudulent transactions.

How to Stay Safe?

  1. Regularly Update and Patch: Ensure that all your softwares, especially your web browsers and shopping apps, are up to date. Cybercriminals often exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated software.
  2. Use Security Software: Employ comprehensive security software or extensions that can detect and block formjacking attempts.
  3. Be Wary of Smaller Online Retailers: While it’s tempting to shop at lesser-known online stores because of unique products or better deals, they might not have stringent security measures in place. It’s always safer to shop from well-established and reputed online retailers.
  4. Monitor Your Credit Reports: Regularly check your statements for any unauthorized transactions. If you spot anything unusual, report it to your credit card issuer immediately.

Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing is the act of discreetly observing someone as they input sensitive information, such as a credit card PIN or a password. This can be done from a distance using binoculars or up close, with the perpetrator pretending to be engrossed in their phone but actually recording the victim’s actions.

While the concept of shoulder surfing has been around for a long time, it has evolved with technology. With the proliferation of smartphones, it’s become even easier for criminals to capture your data without you noticing. A common tactic is to use a smartphone to record someone entering their PIN at an ATM or making a purchase at a store. Later, the thief can review the footage and extract the necessary information.

Moreover, advancements in technology have introduced new threats related to shoulder surfing. For instance, thermal cameras have been used to detect the heat signatures left by fingers on ATM keypads, revealing the sequence of pressed keys. This method was highlighted in a 2014 study, emphasizing the need for ATMs to have thermal shielding or for users to employ countermeasures like pressing multiple keys to confuse potential attackers.

Protecting Yourself

  • Always be conscious of your surroundings, especially in public places where you’re entering sensitive information.
  • If someone is standing too close to you at an ATM or checkout counter, don’t hesitate to ask them to step back.
  • When entering a PIN or password, use your other hand to shield the keypad from prying eyes or cameras.

Familial Fraud

It’s a heartbreaking reality that sometimes, the people closest to us can be the ones who betray our trust. Familial fraud, also known as friendly fraud, occurs when someone you know, often a family member, misuses or steals your credit card information without your consent.

Imagine lending your credit card to a sibling for a one-time emergency purchase, only to find out they’ve been using it for their personal shopping sprees. Or discovering that a close relative has taken out a credit card in your name, racking up debt that you’re now responsible for. These scenarios are more common than you might think.

Why Does Familial Fraud Happen?

Several factors can drive a loved one to commit familial fraud:

  1. Financial Desperation: Economic hardships or poor financial decisions can push someone to misuse a relative’s credit card.
  2. Addiction: Individuals battling addictions might resort to stealing from family to fund their habits.
  3. Opportunism: Simply having access to a relative’s credit card can tempt some individuals.
  4. Lack of Understanding: Some might not fully grasp the implications of their actions, thinking they can “pay it back later” without any consequences.

How Can You Prevent Familial Fraud

  1. Open Communication: Regularly discuss finances in a family setting. Educate younger members about the responsibilities and consequences associated with credit cards.
  2. Secure Your Information: Don’t leave credit card statements or other sensitive information lying around. Use secure passwords for online accounts and change them regularly.
  3. Monitor Your Credit: Regularly check your credit reports for any unauthorized accounts or changes.
  4. Set Boundaries: If a family member asks to borrow your credit card, consider other ways to help them without compromising your financial security.

How Do Cybercriminals Steal Credit Card Information – Advanced Security Threats

Image under 'Advanced Threats' showing graphics of a credit card being stolen, detailing advanced methods on how cybercriminals steal credit card information.

Cookie Theft and Session Hijacking

Imagine you’re logged into your favorite online shopping site, browsing through products, and suddenly, without your knowledge, someone else gains access to your session. This is precisely what happens in a session hijacking attack. Cybercriminals steal browser cookies, which are tiny pieces of data stored on your computer that track your online sessions. By obtaining these cookies, attackers can impersonate users and gain unauthorized access to their accounts.

One of the most notorious methods of session hijacking is through cookie theft. Once the attacker has the cookie, they can effectively “become” the user on that particular website, accessing personal information, making unauthorized purchases, and more.

Risks and preventive measures:

  • Risks: Unauthorized access to personal accounts, financial loss, identity theft, and potential misuse of personal information.
  • Preventive Measures: Regularly clearing browser cookies, using secure and encrypted connections (HTTPS), avoiding public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions, and employing browser security plugins.

Credit Card Laundering

The dark underbelly of the internet, often referred to as the “dark web,” is a haven for illicit activities, including credit card laundering. In this scheme, stolen credit card information is used to conduct fraudulent transactions, often purchasing valuable items or services, which are then sold for cash. The aim is to “clean” the money obtained from the stolen card, making it harder to trace back to the original theft.

Preventive Measures

Regularly monitoring credit card statements for suspicious activities, setting up transaction alerts, using credit card protection services, and being cautious about where and how you use your credit card online.

Final Thoughts

We all love the ease that credit cards bring to our lives. But let’s not forget, they’re like double-edged swords. While they make shopping a breeze, they also open the door to a world of risks. From old-school pickpocketing to high-tech hacking, the threats are real and ever-changing and can negatively impact not just your finances but your privacy as well. It’s not all bad news. We can prevent credit card fraud by staying alert and following some basic safety tips.

Dany Mirza

Dany is a full-time writer at Host Duplex, with a talent for breaking down complex ideas into easy-to-digest, engaging and informative articles. When not tapping away at the keyboard, you can find Dany exploring new coffee shops and reading works from favorite authors.

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