Home > Credit Cards > What Really Happens After Your Credit Card Is Stolen

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


After a hacker steals your credit card number, you may receive an email, text or phone call from your bank to alert you of criminal or fraudulent activity with your credit card. This is a helpful and necessary measure implemented by financial institutions to help protect your accounts. However, sometimes the alert is too late and the cybercriminal has already replicated your card and gone on a shopping spree. Have you wondered though, what exactly happens to your stolen credit card number, and what is it worth to a criminal? Well, we took a peek inside the cybercriminal underground to explore this interesting and frightening reality.

Cybercriminals have to race against the clock to use your credit card information before you or your bank shuts down the card. So, where does a stolen credit card go when it gets into the wrong hands?

What Happens to Stolen Credit Card Info

Credit card thieves have to move fast once they have your data. Here’s a look at their methods:

  1. They take your stolen card data and add it to their stockpile.
  2. They sell a group of credit card numbers to other cybercriminals on websites designed to process these transactions (think of it as an eBay for eVil).
  3. The buyer of the group may resell them again or begin using the stolen data at online retailers.
  4. The criminals also have hardware on hand to print fake plastic cards in case they want to use the them at physical stores.
  5. The criminals make purchases of goods that they can resell for quick cash.

How Criminals Price Cards

Once they have your card data, the criminals selling the info have to price it. And not all credit cards are worth the same price to criminals who are buying. Here’s how they determine what’s “good.”

  1. The criminal who wants to purchase a batch of cards may make a few small transactions to test if the card is still active, or known as “live.”
  1. If the card is sold with the victim’s address and additional information can be appended to it, such as mother’s maiden name, SSN and date of birth, those additional details make the card more valuable.
  1. If the criminal selling the card can also provide purchasing behaviors, that’s even better. For example, the behavior data may indicate that you routinely used your card at Target and Lowes in South Carolina. By adding your shopping habits to the card, the card is worth even more money because the criminals know that the victim or financial institution might miss a fraudulent charge if they can pretend they are you and shop like you in your hometown.

Eventually, the card data reaches the hands of criminals who can use the cards and associated data to commit fraud. Armed with these stolen cards, the criminals have the tools to make fraudulent purchases of goods that can be resold, including gift cards and consumer electronics. Once those goods are sold, the value of the card is realized. All of the intermediate reselling of card data in the supply chain hinges on the ultimate purchase and reselling of goods in this process.

How Retailers Can Protect Themselves & Their Customers

If you have a business that takes credit card information from your customers, Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is often not enough to protect your customers’ debit and credit card data. Consider taking these three steps to better protect this data:

  1. Make sure that any remote access to your network does not have a side door that leads to your credit card data.
  2. Train your employees on how to spot suspicious emails to avoid letting the cybercriminals in through your trusted staff.
  3. Practice a credit card and debit card theft disaster to make sure you know what to do in the event your systems are breached.

Cybercriminals will continue to hit retailers, because that is where the money is and their tactics have worked so far – they have breached Target, Home Depot and according to law enforcement, potentially thousands of other companies. The key is not to become immune to the news of another data breach or cyber incident at your favorite store. These incidents are damaging to you as the retailer, your bank and, ultimately, your wallet. Overall, NPR reporter Elise Hu gets it right: “the damage does fall disproportionately on retailers. They spend a lot of money on security to prevent breaches of their payment systems and keep their names out of hacking-related news.”

What Consumers Can Do to Protect Themselves

Consumers can’t always rely on an alert from their bank to let them know their credit card has been stolen. For their own good, it’s up to consumers to keep an eye on their bank and credit card statements to catch any fraudulent charges as they come in – and work to correct the damage immediately, which means contacting the financial institution and reporting the fraud, and closing the card before further damage can be done.

If your Social Security number was stolen in a breach, you also could be at risk for a criminal to open new accounts in your name. Checking your credit reports regularly can help you spot unfamiliar accounts so you can shut them down. You’re entitled to your credit reports for free every year from the three major credit reporting agencies.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team