How Can Someone Use My Credit Card Without Having It?

By Jim Marous 17 Min Read

How can someone use my credit card without having it? In many ways, anyone can. I have been a victim myself; someone used my credit card without my card. Let’s say suddenly you receive a call from your credit card company about recently spending money at Victoria’s Secret or hailing a taxi over the weekend. The total spending on your credit card has reached $500. However, you have not used any of these services or places. The obvious happened; someone used your credit card without a physical card.

I will simplify this explanation so you understand the possibility. In one scenario, the thief has your credit card number, billing address, and ZIP code. With that information, they can easily make online purchases with no physical card necessary. They don’t even need to show ID for a $450 charge at Victoria’s Secret.

In another scenario, you probably left your credit card unattended. Someone seized the opportunity to snap pictures of both the front and back. Now, they have the card number, expiry date, card name, and CVV number on the back of the card. With this info, they can use your credit card for card not present transactions.

How Can Someone Use My Credit Card Without Having It?

How Can Someone Use My Credit Card Without Having It

At your local restaurant, you might hand over your credit card to the waitress, who then takes it to the register. But along the way, the person could swipe it through a skimming device, about the size of a pack of gum, that records all the information from the magnetic stripe. They could then sell these credit card information in bulk, for about $1-5 each. The buyer may either broker them on the darknet or have a crew that uses them. Your card could be used the day after it’s skimmed, or it could sit in a file for months, depending on how the group operates.

Once someone has the recorded data from your card, they can edit the information in a simple text editor like Notepad. The cardholder’s name is in plain text, so they can replace it with a fake name. They then record this edited information onto a fake credit card that’s printed with the new name. With a fake ID that matches the name, they can impersonate you. The point-of-sale system does not verify the name, but it does display it, so they want it to match in case the clerk checks their ID.

If your card was in the hands of an organized crew, you’d likely see a small charge at a gas station first, as a test. Then, you would see a large purchase at an electronics store such as Best Buy. Smaller purchases like chicken or taxi rides are usually the work of amateurs. However, it doesn’t take a supercriminal to pull off credit card fraud.

Fake IDs, printed cards, and dumps (the term for the data) are all available on the darknet to anyone with cryptocurrency and the guts.

How Did Someone Get My Credit Card Info?

Now, you know that someone can use your credit card without having it. But how did they get your credit card info in the first place?

Credit Card Phishing

You may receive a legit email that that turns out to be a phishing attempt. These emails are meant to trick you into clicking on a link or downloading a file that can steal your credit card information.

Someone can ask you to enter your credit card details on a fake website that looks real. They might prompt you to download spyware that can access your card details and other personal information.

If an email claims you need to call a company urgently and provide a phone number, it could be a scam to collect your credit card details.

Website Data Breach

Sometimes, big companies that you might trust with your information get hacked. This has happened to banks and stores, thus putting your credit card info and other personal details in danger. Remember the big Capital One hack in 2019 or the Equifax breach in 2017? Those incidents put millions of people’s information, including credit cards, at risk.

Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you’re at a hotel or airport, using public Wi-Fi can be risky. If you log into your accounts or open important documents, someone else on the network might see your information.

Credit Card Skimming

Just because you have a credit card doesn’t mean your information is completely safe. For instance, my dad used to have problems with his WF card at gas stations because of card skimmers.

These devices steal your card info when you use it. And don’t forget about the old-fashioned ways thieves can get your credit card details, like going through your trash. Someone can find your credit card numbers and even figure out where you bank or invest your money.

During ATM skimming, thieves put devices on ATMs or other payment terminals to steal your credit card info when you swipe or insert your card. Thankfully, EMV chip-equipped cards have made credit card cloning more difficult.

Card Not Present Theft

This type of theft doesn’t require a physical card. Someone can use your credit card information obtained through phishing, hacking, or from data sold on the dark web. For online purchases, they only need your name, account number, and security code to buy over the phone.

Do Credit Card Companies Investigate Theft?

Let’s say you lose your wallet and someone makes a small fraudulent purchase at Walmart for less than $600. The credit card company typically won’t go after the thief. They’ll just close your account, send you a new card, and write off the loss. In some cases, they might charge the merchant, but they won’t pull security footage or try to prosecute the thief. That’s something your local police might do if you file a report.

If your card number is part of a large-scale data breach, they will usually stop it before you do. They’ll close your account, issue a new card, and take legal action against the merchant or work with law enforcement to find the hackers. But often, these hackers get away with it.

In cases of familiar fraud, such as if a family member steals your credit card and makes unauthorized purchases, the bank will try to hold the original cardholder responsible. They’ll require a police report before even considering forgiving the fraud.

In cases of full-on identity theft, investigators will look for patterns. They will have to work with law enforcement and other banks to find any trends and stop the criminals. They might also try to sell you identity protection insurance.

It costs the bank more to go after the criminals than to just write off the fraud or charge it back to the merchant. So, unless it’s a large-scale compromise, familiar fraud, or a repeat offender, the credit card company probably won’t pursue the perpetrator.

Do Credit Card Thieves Get Caught?

Sometimes, credit card thieves get caught. When you report a compromised credit card, it’s the merchant’s job to make sure the person using the card is the rightful owner. They should check IDs but sometimes they don’t, and the transaction goes through. If that happens, the merchant has to refund the money to the credit card company.

You should file a police report if your card is stolen. Many people do not because they get their money back from the credit card company and just want to move on. The credit card company gets its money back from the merchant, so they are not out of any money either.

The merchant can file a police report, but it’s often easier to just file an insurance claim. The insurance company loses money in the end. They might investigate and prosecute if the amount is large enough. Small amounts are usually not worth the trouble.

Can You Find Out Who Used Your Credit Card?

You can find out who used your credit card. However, while it’s possible, it might not always be worth it, especially for small amounts. Your bank can handle it for you. They’ll refund your money, give you a new card number, and let their fraud department work with law enforcement to find the culprit.

Your bank has sophisticated tools to detect and investigate fraud. They’ll share their findings with law enforcement, who will then contact the merchant for purchase details. This can reveal a lot about the purchaser. Law enforcement can use their authority to gather even more information, including IP addresses and VPNs, to pinpoint the location and device of the thief.

If the purchase was for physical goods, law enforcement might follow the merchandise to catch the thief. They’ll deliver the package, or even a decoy, to the address provided and catch the person accepting the fraudulently obtained items. For digital goods, they’ll find out which IP address and device ID redeemed the items and track down the thief that way.

Sometimes, the person caught might have unknowingly bought stolen goods. In that case, the police will find out who sold them the goods and start the process again. It’s a lot of work, but eventually, the thieves get caught. However, for small amounts, the police might not prioritize the case, giving the small-time thieves a free pass.

How Much Money Are You Held Liable for if Your Credit Card Information is Stolen?

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) is in place to protect you from credit card fraud, capping your maximum liability at $50. However, many credit card issuers offer $0 fraud liability on unauthorized charges. So, you won’t be held responsible for any fraudulent purchases.

How to Check if My Credit Card Has Been Hacked

Even if you are not a victim, you can start now to review your credit card account to be sure there are no fraudulent activities.

Review Your Credit Report

Make sure to keep a close eye on your credit report for any unfamiliar transactions. You can check your credit reports for free every week from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at until December 31, 2023. If you see anything suspicious that could damage your credit score, dispute the information right away.

Monitor Your Credit Card Statements

Regularly check your credit card statements to catch any unauthorized or fraudulent charges. If your spending history doesn’t match the transactions listed on your statement, report the discrepancy to your credit card issuer immediately.

Invest in a Credit and Identity Theft Monitoring Tool

Consider enlisting a credit and identity theft monitoring service. These services, which can be free or paid, are offered by your bank or one of the three credit bureaus. They can help you investigate any suspicious activity on your credit accounts.

What to Do if You Are a Victim

Report the Credit Card Fraud to Law Enforcement

Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website to file an identity theft report. This is useful for law enforcement agencies investigating your case.

You can also follow up with your local police department if you want. Reporting to the police may help to recover stolen funds.

Notify Your Credit Card Issuer

Contact your credit card issuer immediately if you see a fraudulent transaction. Some issuers offer fraud reporting in their app or website, but you might need to call the number on your card.

If the issuer confirms fraud, they will cancel your card and issue a new one with different numbers.

Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report

Head to the Experian Fraud Center to place a free fraud alert on your credit report. With this, potential lenders can verify your identity before opening new accounts in your name.

One credit bureau is enough to put a fraud alert on all three of your credit reports. You can cancel the alert at any time.

Tips to Protect Yourself

Though someone can use your credit card without having it, you can frustrate them from getting the details in the first place. The best solution is prevention; you don’t want your card details at the mercy of fraudsters.

Eyes on your card during physical transactions

At restaurants or stores, keep your credit card within sight. Do not allow employees to take your card to a different location where they might note its details. Keep your wallet secure, especially at public places like gyms or during work lunches.

Review your credit card statements

Check statements monthly. Verify each transaction. If you find unauthorized charges, contact your credit card issuer immediately.

Don’t share account details over the phone

When asked for your credit card number during phone calls, especially if you didn’t initiate the call, it is a scam.

Use secure websites for transactions

Only enter your credit card and personal information on secure websites. Look for a padlock icon or “https” in the web browser’s domain. Always confirm the website’s address and click links from reliable sources.

Avoid storing credit card information on e-commerce sites

Remove your credit card details from non-essential online retailers and websites. While it’s convenient for faster checkouts, it also makes you vulnerable to data breaches and theft.

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Jim Marous is a Top 5 Retail Banking Influencer, Global Speaker, Podcast Host and Co-Publisher at The Financial Brand. I am a co-author here at Finance and Pay, writing on a lot of topics regarding payments, banking software, cards, and investing.
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