Think your credit card information is secure? Identity thieves know otherwise.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 2.2 million fraud reports in 2020, according to data released in early 2021. Identity theft and online shopping fraud during the pandemic were two of the most common types of fraud reported to the FTC. Credit card thieves have many ways they can use your credit card number for unauthorized purchases.

The most common fraudulent purchases with stolen credit card information include purchasing cell phone subscriptions, gift cards, luxury items and electronics and online goods such as video game credits and business services, according to major credit bureau TransUnion. Even with chip and PIN technology in place to foil credit card thievery, you can still be at risk for someone stealing your credit card information.

Here are five ways hackers and thieves can steal your credit card number and how to prevent becoming their next victim.

Digging through your trash

Receiving paper credit card statements in the mail rather than electronically may be old school, but plenty of credit cardholders still get a hardcopy statement, eventually tossing it in the trash. If someone gets their hands on your credit card account numbers and other financial information they find in your trash, that sensitive information could be used to steal your identity for unauthorized credit card transactions.

Prevention tip: Shred all credit card statements and other sensitive financial documents. Then sign up to receive paperless credit card statements instead.

Find out: 5 Signs You May be a Victim of Identity Theft

Phishing

Phishing texts, emails and phone calls are all ways that scammers try to get you to provide sensitive personal information that they can use to steal your identity, make fraudulent purchases and open unauthorized credit accounts under your name. Phishing scammers use all kinds of ploys to trick you into providing your credit card account number, password or Social Security number.

Phishing messages may offer free prizes, gift cards, a low or no-interest credit card or even promise to pay off your student loans. Others claim to notice “suspicious activity” on your credit card account and then ask you to verify your account number, Social Security number or password. If you provide that information, however, you could be on the hook for unauthorized transactions from a phishing scam.

Prevention tip: Filter and block messages from unknown senders on your phone through your wireless carrier or with a call-blocking app. Never click on an email or text link from an unknown or unfamiliar sender and delete the message immediately.

Find out: 5 Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Public Wi-Fi

Using free public Wi-Fi may be convenient, but you’ll pay for that convenience later if hackers steal your credit card number. If using public Wi-Fi, never sign into credit card, bank account, student loan or other financial accounts where thieves can steal your password and account information.

Prevention tip: If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a VPN, a virtual private network that can encrypt all data you send and receive, even while using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Find out: 5 Identity Theft Risks you Should Never Take on Public Wi-Fi

Spyware and malware

Spyware is a type of malware, an unwanted software program that can maliciously invade your phone, computer or other devices. Spyware tracks your internet activity and can capture your credit card and other account information to steal your identity. For example, spyware can capture your credit card number as you type the digits into an online form while shopping.

Prevention tip: To  help prevent spyware, never open emails from unknown senders, download files from unfamiliar or untrustworthy sources or click on pop-up ads. For the most effective protection against spyware and malware, install reputable antivirus software.

Card skimming

Did you know that your credit card number can be stolen at the gas pump and retail sales terminals with a device called a card skimmer? “Skimmers” can be placed over the card reader, allowing thieves access to your credit card number when you swipe. Once they have your credit card number, thieves then make a duplicate to use for fraudulent transactions.

Prevention tip: To make credit card theft by skimming more difficult, use a credit card with an EMV-chip, the square computer chip displayed on the card.

How to detect and report credit card fraud

One way to detect credit card fraud early is to review your credit report regularly. That way, you can spot late payments or default on new, unfamiliar credit accounts someone else opened under your name. Usually, you’re allowed to order one free copy of your credit report a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. During the pandemic, however, the three major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – are offering free weekly credit reports.

If you’re a victim of identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov website to file an identity theft report and contact local law enforcement to file a police report. Notify your credit card issuer and all three major credit bureaus that your credit card information was stolen. Consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit account with the major credit bureaus.

Find out: How to Report Credit Fraud

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC