Go to Google and type ‘how to commit c…’ and the search engine will immediately suggest ‘how to commit credit card fraud’ as an autocomplete option. Go to YouTube and there are videos explaining how to break the law, including one that’s sponsored by an advert for a credit card company!
One thing is very clear; there are plenty of people who want to steal from you, and plenty of places for them to learn how to do it. It can feel like an arms race between card providers and criminals, with customers stuck in the middle.
So, we asked a real-life credit card fraudster for his tips on avoiding scams. Dan DeFelippi's life of crime began in his teens when he learned to hack. In college he sold fake IDs, before graduating to more sophisticated fraud such as phishing scams, credit card fraud and identity theft.
Following a conviction, it’s all behind him now and he freely gives up his time to help people stay safe from scams.
“Just like other forms of theft, fraud and scams will never go away,” he says. “Just like locking our homes and cars, we need to take preventative measures to protect ourselves from fraud. Thieves will always be a step ahead so we need to be proactive in protecting ourselves.”
Dan has been telling us the insider tricks of the credit card fraudsters. Read on for the skinny…
You may receive dozens of fraudulent emails and know not to reply, but not everyone will be as savvy. By persevering and sending out thousands of emails, fraudsters increase the chances that someone will take the bait.
That’s why the practice has become known as phishing, with criminals often pretending to be a high-street bank or a provider such as PayPal or eBay.
“Many of the credit cards used for online fraud are obtained through phishing,” says Dan. “Most people are aware of phishing now so it is much less effective but you only need a tiny percentage of people to fall for it to be successful.”
Fraudsters can be specific
As Dan says, banks have repeatedly warned customers not to follow links in emails, so there’s greater awareness of phishing. In response, the tricksters have become trickier and sometimes now target attacks against individuals. This is known as spear phishing.
This is where more information about an individual is sourced so that a more convincing fraud can be staged.
Dan explains: “Phishing is still the biggest scam used for credit card fraud. Ten years ago many people would fall for phishing emails. Luckily awareness is much better now and very few people fall for it.
“Spear phishing is a more recent technique used to target specific individuals and is more successful.”
Even if no-one is standing behind you when you enter your Pin at a cash machine or pay point, it’s still important to shield it. There have been cases where thieves have used hidden cameras to steal details and commit fraud.
Fraudsters use technology
According to Dan, quite a lot of credit card fraud is done without much human contact at all.
He says: “It largely depends on the type of fraud and how it's done. [Other than phishing], the rest of the cards are obtained through hacking and skimming. Most of the time using the stolen cards doesn't require much human manipulation or interaction.”
Fraudsters are good manipulators
Successful fraudsters are as good at manipulating people as they are at manipulating technology.
“Sometimes you'll need to work around fraud protections by conning people, like shipping to alternative addresses or getting out of a store when the stolen card you just swiped came up flagged,” adds Dan.
Fraudsters take your card away ‘legitimately’
If you’re in a restaurant waiting to pay with a card then the waiter should always bring a portable machine to you, or invite you to follow them. They should never remove your card from your sight, because that gives them a chance to swipe your card through a device that harvests its information.
You should also avoid leaving a card to open a tab, even if that means paying as you go instead.
Fraudsters can act
A growing number of people are falling for more elaborate credit card scams, such as courier fraud. These can fool even the most suspicious people because they are so clever. A scammer will call and claim to be from the credit card company or a police officer.
They will invite the victim to hang up and ring to check credentials, only to remain on the phone – meaning the caller doesn’t connect to a new number but believes that they have. Their colleague will falsely reassure the victim that the call is legit and connect them back.
At that point the story can vary but the outcome is the same. Often a courier will be ‘sent by the police’ to collect a credit card, under the guise that it has been compromised. There have even been cases where fake police have persuaded victims to withdraw large sums of money and hand the cash over – the stories can be very persuasive.
Fraudsters move fast
Fraudsters know they’ve only got a small window to work in before the credit card company or customer realises the card has been compromised.
So they move fast, maximising the amount they can steal. Keep a close eye on your account and call your provider if anything looks odd – for example, if your card is declined when you think it shouldn’t have been.
How can we stay safe?
These criminals are clever, good actors, use technology and they are constantly evolving their techniques and sharing information. So how on earth can the average punter protect themselves?
Dan says it’s simply a case of maintaining vigilance.
“The two best things you can do to prevent fraud are to be aware and be vigilant," he said. "Learn about common techniques people use to rip you off such as phishing and ATM skimmers.
“Monitor your accounts regularly, at least once a week, to catch fraud as quickly as possible. If it's just a little harder than average for someone to target you they'll move on to an easier target.”
Have you fallen victim to credit card fraud? What happened? Would Dan’s tips have helped you avoid the crime? Let us know on Twitter.