How to avoid credit card fraud, traps and scams

Watch out for suspicious emails, calls or text messages.

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Every year, millions of Americans are subject to credit card scams and online fraud. Falling victim to card misuse can wreak havoc on your personal finances and can ruin your credit score.

While credit cards offer zero liability policies that protect you against fraudulent charges, there are some strategies you can use to protect your account from fraud in the first place.

Six ways to avoid credit card fraud

Credit card fraud comes in many forms. Here are some strategies to protect your account.

How does credit card fraud work?

At the most basic level, credit card fraud is simply when someone obtains your credit card information and uses it to make unauthorized purchases. The act of credit card fraud can be performed with or without the physical card in hand, as only the card information is necessary to make a purchase online.

What are the most common types of credit card fraud?

Though the end result is usually the same, credit card fraud can occur in a few forms. Here are the most common ways your information could be compromised:

  • Card-not-present fraud.
    This involves your name on card, card number and CCV number being used to make online transactions, where there is no need for a physical card, a PIN or a signature.
  • Counterfeit card fraud.
    Fraudsters can get your credit card data through a method called skimming or they can buy it from black markets. Choosing a credit card with an EMV chip will make it harder to counterfeit. If you’re running a business, you should keep an eye out for fake credit cards as well.
  • Card skimming.
    This is the process of stealing your credit card information with a normal transaction. To achieve this, fraudsters use card skimming devices, which are usually attached to an ATM or any other card reader. The updated version is called credit card shimming where scammers try to steal information from the EMV chip.
  • Not-received fraud.
    This is when someone accesses your card before you do, such as through your mailbox when you’ve applied for a new card.
  • Application fraud.
    In this case, someone might apply for a credit card in your name, using your personal details and then use it to make purchases and cash advances. This is often linked to further identity theft issues, as they would need to be able to provide enough documentation to actually get approved for a card in your name.
  • Account takeover.
    Fraudsters call your bank and use your personal information like home address, SSN or even mother’s maiden name to pretend they are you. They can say your card has been lost and ask for a new card to be issued at a different location.
  • Phishing.
    Scammers can lure you into providing your credit card information by posing as your bank or an authority. Telephone phishing is the most common, but email phishing is also used.

What’s the difference between credit card fraud and identity theft?

Credit card fraud and identity theft are familiar bedfellows, in part because the methods for performing credit card fraud and identity theft are very similar. The major differences between the two crimes is the personal information stolen and how that information is used.

Credit card fraud

As explained above, credit card fraud only involves the information and data necessary to use a credit card for purchases. If you’re the victim of credit card fraud, you’re not held responsible for purchases made on your card. Because of this and other security protections offered by issuers, credit cards remain a safe payment method in most circumstances.

Identity theft

While credit card fraud involves your card information, identity theft involves your personal information, such as Social Security Number, birth date or bank account information. This information is stolen to perform certain tasks in your name, such as opening a credit line, writing checks or even obtaining a driver’s license. Your liability for debts incurred from identity theft are typically limited, though the recovery process can vary depending on your state.

Who do I contact if I suspect that my credit card has been used fraudulently?

Depending on your circumstances, you have two options:

  • Contact your bank.
    Call your credit card company as soon as reasonably possible. If you can’t manually freeze your credit card, your card issuer will.
  • Change your password and PIN.
    Log in to your online account and change your password. If possible, change your PIN as well. This can help you prevent further misuse of your credit card.

Compare credit cards with fraud protection

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
2x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at
17.24%, 22.24% or 24.49% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
17.49% to 24.49% variable
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
CardMatch™ from
See terms
See issuer's website
See terms
Can't decide on a card? Get personalized credit card offers with CardMatch™.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
1.5% cash back on all purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 16.49% to 25.24% variable)
Earn a $150 signup bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months from account opening.
American Express® Gold Card
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
See Rates & Fees
Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide. Rates & fees

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Credit card fraud can be an overwhelming experience, but it’s important to remain calm and contact your card issuer as soon as possible. Also, be sure to avoid clicking on suspicious emails or answering suspicious calls that imitate your bank. Remember, reviewing and disputing your credit statements is a standard part of maintaining financial health.

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