How Thieves use the Phone to Steal Card Information

2 Credit Card Scams that Come by Phone

Trouble Calling
yuoak/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

We live in a digital world, but scammers still use old-fashioned tools to try and steal information. In some ways, that's an especially sneaky approach: you're on the lookout for phishing emails, but phone calls can seem more legitimate.

That said, thieves use technology to make it appear like they're using the plain-old telephone to speak with you. In reality, they're using computers that hide their location and change what shows up on your caller ID.

There are two major scams that thieves use to steal your credit card information: the "fraud department" scam and the activation scam.

The "Fraud Department"

Scammers know that you’re busy, and sometimes you’ll slip up and provide valuable information. They just need that information long enough to make a few purchases, and their efforts pay off.

With the “fraud department” scam, you’ll get a call – supposedly from your credit card issuer’s fraud department. They’ll inform you that your card has been frozen, but you can keep using it as long as you can prove that you still have the card in your possession (which you do, of course).

In order to prove that you still have your card, the fraud department will ask you to verify a few things. They’ll ask for as much information as you’re willing to provide, such as:

  • Your card number (although they might already have this)
  • The three digit security code on the back of your card
  • The zip code that your bills are mailed to
  • Your PIN
  • Your date of birth or Social Security Number

They’ll keep asking questions as long as you keep providing answers.

Of course, you should not provide any of these details. Your card issuer will never call you and ask these questions. If anything, a real fraud department might ask you to verify whether or not you were involved in several recent transactions, but that’s a yes or no question – not a discussion where you give sensitive information to a stranger.

If you get one of these calls, it’s almost certainly a scam. However, if you want to be sure, hang up and call your card issuer using the number on the back of your card (or a number that you know is legitimate – not a number provided by the caller).

Activation Scams

New credit cards are often mailed out with a sticker on them that asks you to call a number to activate the card. One of the requirements for this type of activation is that you call from your home number. The reason, of course, is that only the legitimate credit card owner can call from their own home number.

Creative Fraudsters

However, things have changed. Technology now allows credit card thieves to place phone calls and make the call appear as if it came from any phone number (known as "spoofing"). So, credit card thieves can try to steal new cards from the mail and then find out what the card owner's home phone number is - and it's not hard to find a phone number.

Using commonly available tools, they place a call to activate the card and make the call look as if it came from the card owner's home number. The card is activated, and the card can be used fraudulently.

What You Can Do

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of this scam is to watch your mail and keep track of incoming credit cards.

As your cards expire (or if you apply for a new card), expect to receive a freshly issued card in the mail. If you don't get one, find out why. Call your card issuer to find out if and when it was mailed, and when you should expect your new card.

If you're planning on traveling, have the card mailed to a locked location (such as a Post Office box or mailbox store), or have a trusted friend gather your mail daily.