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Credit cards have always been targeted by hackers and thieves, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Unfortunately, the most common scams have changed right along with technology, which means scammers are always coming up with new tricks that catch the general public off guard.
This year, scammers will have a variety of tricks up their sleeves.
“We expect to see identity crimes affect generations differently, depending on how people interact with the digital world, as well as a rise in scams targeting specific ethnic groups,” says the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in its 2023 forecast.
The ITRC, a non-profit organization, predicts identity criminals could look to exploit the technology gap between people who adopt new passwordless logins and those who don’t. The organization will also “watch to see how much information is included in data breach notices in 2023,” according to the forecast. “A lack of information on compromises leaves people and businesses vulnerable to identity crimes.”
While nobody knows for sure what the future holds, it’s safe to say financial scams cause headaches and financial losses. Still, you don’t have to be a victim if you’re careful. Read on to learn more about some of the biggest credit card scams to watch out for in 2023, as well as how you can protect yourself.
1. Identity fraud scams
Credit card identity fraud scams are a big issue for cardholders to be wary of. According to a 2022 study of identity fraud by Javelin, losses from identity fraud scams in 2021 amounted to $28 billion and impacted 15 million U.S. consumers. Javelin identifies identity fraud scams as those in which criminals had direct contact with the victims.
And the Federal Trade Commission says that it got about 390,000 reports on credit card identity theft fraud in 2021, which was the second largest category for identity theft fraud (behind fraud related to government documents or benefits).
Where criminals once focused on perpetrating fraud at an institutional level, according to Javelin Research, hackers are focusing more and more on ensnaring individual consumers with scams. Many times, individuals wind up communicating with criminals via email, text message or phone. They get the individual’s card information and then use it to make charges or access money from your account.
According to experts, identity fraud scams can sometimes be avoided if you know what to look for. For example, you should be wary of any company contacting you via phone, text or email for any reason. Experts at Javelin Research also say to watch out for “misspelled email addresses, suspicious requests for money or random messages through social media from criminals claiming to represent a financial institution.”
2. Skimming scams
Skimming scams happen when fraudsters get your card information by skimming it when you conduct transactions at, typically, retail point-of-sale devices, automated teller machines (ATMs) and gas stations.
Criminals tinker with these devices so as to capture your card information. They could then make fake cards with it. For instance, they could attach wiring to a fuel pump at a gas station. Or they could place a card skimmer inside an ATM card reader.
To avoid such scams, it’s a good idea to cover the keypad when you enter your personal identification number (PIN) at ATMs, gas stations and retail outlets. Also, it’s safer to use credit cards over debit cards where possible to cut down on your losses. Credit cards with chips, rather than magnetic stripes, use better technology that thwarts criminals’ skimming attempts.
3. Credit card interest rate reduction scams
Credit card interest rate reduction scams occur when a caller implies its company has special relationships with card issuers that can help secure lower interest rates. The Federal Trade Commission says consumers who receive a call like this “should listen to them with extreme skepticism, and delete them.”
Why? Because, by and large, robocalls promising to lower your interest rates are always fraudulent. No matter what a company claims, nobody can do anything for your interest rate that you cannot do for yourself. If you want a lower interest rate from your card issuer, the FTC recommends calling your issuer and asking for one.
According to the FTC, individuals who are tricked into paying third-party companies for a lower interest rate never see the promised savings and struggle to get refunds. Giving these companies your credit card information also leaves you open to other types of scams, like the use of your credit card number to make fraudulent purchases.
4. Phishing scams
According to Chris McHargue, previously the principal financial services industry consultant for fraud at SAS, phishing schemes have been around for a long time and remain a significant problem. While phishing can take on several different forms, it usually occurs when a fraudster contacts the target victim by phone or, increasingly, online via some social engineering scheme in order to extract card, account or banking credentials or other personal details.
The original contact may look like an email from a company you use, or you might get a phone call that sounds legitimate but asks you to give your personal information or credit card details.
McHargue said this information is then used to commit fraud over the internet, using card details for e-commerce transactions or banking credentials to move money via online banking. “They may even open credit card accounts in the victim’s name,” McHargue said.
These types of schemes often target senior citizens who may be less familiar with technology and thus more vulnerable. Digital wallets have also become a target for phishing scams.
5. Social Security benefits scams
According to Ahren Tiller, an attorney at The Bankruptcy Law Center, another credit card scam to watch out for involves any Social Security benefits you receive. Tiller noted scammers may call pretending to be from the Social Security Administration and say one of two things:
- You were overpaid benefits, and you need to pay some of the money back via a credit card.
- You were underpaid benefits, and they need your bank account information to deposit more money into your account.
In either case, the scammer is hoping to get their hands on your credit card details or bank account information. However, there are a few red flags to look out for. For example, they might rush you and demand that you provide them with personal information or your Social Security number immediately, and this is never a good sign.
They may also try to trick you by using fake caller IDs or official-sounding names, says Tiller. Additionally, scammers may ask for payment in order to receive your benefits or give you a phony bank routing number to deposit your benefits into.
“If any of these things happen, it’s likely that you’re speaking with a scammer and you should hang up immediately,” says Tiller.
6. Government imposter scams
Another scam to watch out for is when a criminal pretends to be an employee of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or another government agency. In some cases, they might even use the real names of government officials in order to seem more legitimate.
The FDIC points out that government agencies do not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information.
“No government agency will ever demand that you pay by gift card, wiring money or digital currency,” according to the FDIC. “The FDIC would never contact you asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers or passwords.”
How to protect yourself from credit card scams
While there are numerous credit card scams to watch out for, there are just as many ways to avoid them. These tips can help you avoid being a victim of credit card scams and other types of fraud:
- Sign up for free credit-monitoring services. Credit-monitoring services provide methods to monitor and alert you of any activity on your credit report. And note that AnnualCreditReport.com lets you look at your credit report from all three credit bureaus for free once a year, which is a good way to stop fraud early on.
- Routinely check your bank statements. “You may find charges for $0.01 or very low dollar amounts,” says McHargue. “This is a common tactic used by fraudsters to validate your account.” Once scammers confirm the card details work, and that the charge went undisputed, they then use them for larger charges.
- Freeze your credit. When you freeze your credit report with each of the credit bureaus, nobody can open new accounts in your name — not even yourself. Don’t worry, you can unfreeze your credit when you need to.
- Set up alerts on your credit accounts. Setting up alerts means you’ll be notified when a purchase is made on an existing account. If you didn’t make the purchase, you can notify your bank and take steps to cancel it and secure your account right away.
- Be careful using public Wi-Fi. Nishank Khanna, a digital marketing entrepreneur, said unsecure Internet connections will put you at risk of having your personal information stolen. “Some especially cunning thieves may capture your information by generating a pop-up on your screen for you to input your card information or stealing your saved card information off your computer,” he said. If you’re frequently using public Wi-Fi, it makes sense to pay for a virtual private network (VPN).
- Set up multi-factor authentication. Credit card accounts and other financial accounts with multi-factor authentication can protect you from fraud. You’ll have an extra step when you log in, such as retrieving a code via text or email, but this makes your accounts more secure.
- Avoid phone solicitations. According to The Bankruptcy Law Center’s Tiller, avoiding telephone solicitations completely is not a bad idea. “If you receive a call from an unknown number, don’t answer it,” he said. “Legitimate governmental agencies do not solicit information over the phone unless you have initiated contact with them first.”
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
The good news about most types of credit card fraud is that consumers are typically not on the hook. Thanks to protections in the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), consumers are limited to $50 in liability for fraudulent charges, although most credit cards come with $0 fraud liability policies.
If you think you’re the victim of a credit card scam or your information has been compromised, however, you’ll want to notify your card issuer as soon as you can. A customer representative has the power to freeze your account or cancel your card entirely. At that point, your lender will typically launch an investigation and reimburse you for any lost funds. However, this is only the case if you spot the fraud and report it within a reasonable timeline, generally 60 days.
Still, just canceling your card may not be enough since your information may have been compromised as well. As a result, you should keep a close eye on your credit reports to ensure nobody is fraudulently claiming your identity and opening up fake accounts.
If you find fraud on your credit reports, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends placing a fraud alert on your credit reports with all three bureaus. You can also consider freezing your credit reports with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, which you can do for free.
Finally, you should report any scams you encounter to the FTC since they can use this information to spot trends, build a case against criminals or educate the general public. Report to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The bottom line
You can protect yourself from scams by keeping an eye on your accounts and credit reports, being skeptical of phone calls or social media messages from someone asking you about your accounts (or pretending to be from your bank) and keeping your personal information (including credit card details) secure.
If you find that some of your information has been compromised, report it to your issuer immediately to have the account closed, then file a report with the FTC and potentially with local law enforcement, too.