Five common credit card scams

Today's scammers are finding more opportunities to fleece unsuspecting Australians of their hard-earned money through electronic transactions, with most credit card fraud committed without the presence of the original card, but through stolen details or cloned cards.

According to the Australian Payments Clearing Association, a total of 861,700 fraudulent credit and debit charge card transactions took place in Australia over 2011, to the value of $209 million. The financial cost of getting scammed is significant and it is essential that Australians are aware of the common tactics used by scammers to acquire card details.

Here are five of the most common scams.

Computer security

The first and most obvious route scammers take is stealing your information straight from your computer. Malware and spyware can snoop on your internet activities, while keyloggers can grab credit card or shopping account details from your keyboard input. Malicious software can often be distributed via compromised websites, or installed from removable media such as USB drives.

To be safe, take some precautions:

  • Install a reliable internet security program,
  • Keep your browser and operating system updated,
  • Scan all forms of removable media before use,
  • Disable autorun programs on your computer, and
  • Avoid opening emails from unknown sources.

Be wary of entering credit card details on public computers, such as in your local library or an internet café, as they may not be secure. At the same time, ensure that any online purchases are made from trustworthy sites - check for the HTTPS in the URL or padlock symbol.


Card skimming is a process through which information is lifted from your charge card and used to create identical 'clones'. This can take the form of devices installed on ATMs or card processing equipment, or even through basic methods such as recovering receipts from the trash or copying your card details outright.

When using ATMs, be aware of any strange components or additions installed. If buying items from a store with a card, warnings signs can include being asked to swipe your card through two machines, or a shop assistant taking your card out of sight for scanning.

Furthermore, it is advisable to always cover keypads when using credit card machines, to reduce the risk of nearby shoppers memorising (or worse, photographing) your card details.

Social engineering

The concept of social engineering is the process of gaining access to property or data by manipulating human behaviour. One of the most common techniques include scammers sending an email or calling by phone, posing as a member of your financial institution - they might ask for your credit card numbers or other details under the pretence of confirming your details or fixing an alleged security breach.

Never give out your account or card details to anyone who contacts you first, and if in doubt, call your financial institution directly. Additionally, avoid leaving your card unattended at all costs, not even at work - it only takes a few seconds for an enterprising individual to copy down its details!

Identity theft

In some extreme cases, scammers may even steal your identity to commit credit card fraud, using information gathered from sources such as social networking sites, bills found in your trash, or even outright stealing your mail.

It can be surprisingly easy to build up a profile of a target through tiny pieces of divulged information - your date of birth through a Facebook birthday announcement, your financial details from a phone bill, even a job history taken from a resume posted online!

With this information, scammers can apply for credit cards in your name or re-direct replacement cards to another address without your knowledge. To minimise the risk, always be careful about divulging information online, turn on privacy features on social networking accounts, shred documents containing personal or financial details and consider locking your mailbox. Keeping tabs on changes in your personal credit history can also notify you of attempts to open accounts in your name.

External risks

Even if you take every precaution to protect your credit card, some situations will be out of your control. Scammers may break into a company database to steal card details, or shop assistants could skim a slightly higher amount from a card payment. However, as most credit cards provide fraud protection, your best form of protection is to keep an eye on your credit card statements for any suspicious purchases and notify the provider if you suspect fraud. Regularly checking your personal credit report, too, can alert you to suspicious transactions, enquiries and account openings. By checking your credit history, you are also ensuring that lenders are getting a balanced and complete picture of your financial health.

Check your credit history now »