Credit Card Skimming

Today I got a call from my credit card company wanting to verify a few charges. They listed several purchases from a part of the country we haven’t visited for years. The charges were all from a card that we don’t use any more–we keep it just for emergencies (if other cards are declined or stolen).

My wife and I both have our cards so it seems someone “skimmed” the number. Hi tech thieves will find a waiter or waitress and offer them $5 or $10 for each card they run through a small hand-held device. The thief then takes the device and downloads all the numbers into a computer and offers them for sale on the internet. Usually this will be done in a batch of cards say 100 or 1,000 card numbers.

People buy these cards numbers and put them on the magnetic stripe of other cards that have been physically stolen, but have been canceled. Then they take these cards into the store and make purchases.

If you notice stores like Best Buy typing in the last 4 digits of the card, this is why. They want to verify that the number scanned in matches the number printed on the front of the card.

Other methods of skimming include getting a hold of the paper receipts from the old manual credit card machines or photographing (or even memorizing) the card number when you take it out at the store. There are also cases where people skim the cards by picking them up from a store’s insecure wireless network when the point of sale reads the card or even extracting them from a merchant’s server.

In the past we have had a credit card physically stolen but this is the first time I’ve run into just having the number stolen. Oh and the credit card company canceled the card, refunded the purchases and is sending a new card.

In most cases, you are only liable for the first $50 of fraudulent charges and only if you discover the theft and don’t notify your credit card company within 30 days. Both times we’ve had a card stolen, the credit card company called us immediately because they noticed the change in our buying patterns.

Have you had a credit card stolen? Please share your stories in the comments.

Good management of your finances can have one of the biggest impacts on your productivity because it determines how efficient you convert your time into money into the things you need. On Wednesdays we are discussing the financial aspect of productivity. Watch for more Wednesday financial posts in the future.


  1. Demolition Robot says

    Keep in mind that although your copy of the credit card receipt has only the last four digits of your card number on it, frequently the merchant’s copy has the whole thing.

    It’s a good idea to keep your hands on your cards at all times if possible, and not give out your number over the phone where other people may overhear. I hear cell phone users giving out their numbers frequently, and I have a great memory for numbers. If I weren’t honest, it’d be easy to skim a credit card number that way.

    My credit card number was stolen due to a foolish error on the merchant’s part. Lists of card numbers were incorrectly used for another purpose, letting my personal info out into the world of the potentially nefarious.

  2. Heather says

    My Visa check card (which is also my credit union ATM card) had its number intercepted 2 years ago. I still don’t know how the thieves got the number. The really puzzling thing about the theft is that everything they purchased was ordered in my own name and sent to my house. This made me think that children were responsible and just wanted to create mischief. Everything was ordered via the internet. Almost all of my money was refunded (about $600) but it was such a nuisance, having to return everything that came to my house and explain what happened to the companies in question.

  3. Paula D. says

    I had something similar happen to me, that happened to Heather. The twist was that the thief made a card and then went to a free standing ATM and took the maximum amount of cash that can be taken in a day ($300 in this case). When they skimmed the card number, they also got the PIN number. They started on a Friday and over a 5 day period they took $1500 off me before I discovered the theft. The bank reimbursed me, but the debris from this has taken hours and days of calling various accounts to straighten it out.

    I no longer use the PIN number with the check card, except for times I’m using it at the bank’s ATM.

  4. Gene says

    Today i knew my card info was stolen. Total lost ammount is $2600. I think it’s skim. God. why Sears doesn’t take care to larger ammount/$1404/ purchase with whom use phony card? Now i’m afraid to pay my bill with real person!

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