Technology is a wonderful thing! It makes life easier, and certainly helps to streamline making payments with credit cards and debit cards – but there is a dark side: credit card fraud. Learn to identify credit creepers, and how to avoid them!
With the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and smartphones, tablets, websites, apps, and touchless payment systems, making purchases at a brick and mortar store as well as online or over the phone has become much easier than it was even ten years ago. Along with the technological advances that have seen convenient tools like digital wallets introduced to the retail space, we’ve also seen advances in data protections – but thieves, fraudsters, and credit creepers have also evolved their own tactics to keep up with the times. Fraudsters are creative people who find creative ways to “beat the system” and steal your money – don’t get caught off-guard. Read our handy guide for more information about Credit Creepers, and how to avoid credit card fraud.
What’s a Credit Creeper?
A Credit Creeper is a term that we at BestCards.com have coined to describe a fraudster, hacker, or phony who uses stolen personal data or credit card information to make illegal purchases of goods and services, or withdraw money from an account without authorization. There are many types of fraud a Credit Creeper can commit, most of which fall under the umbrella of what is most commonly known as credit card fraud.
What is Credit Card Fraud?
Credit card fraud is a form of identity theft; the term is most often used to describe piracy and thievery that is committed using a payment card like a credit card or debit card, without the knowledge of the card’s owner. If you lose your credit card (or your physical card is stolen) and a fraudster finds it, it can be used to make purchases or other transactions both in person or online; Credit Creepers can also steal your account number, PIN and security code to make unauthorized transactions (when the physical card is not used, this is known as card-not-present fraud). Credit card fraud is a big deal, because it quite often goes unnoticed for long enough that it can be extremely damaging to the victim’s credit file and bank account.
What are the Most Common Forms of Credit Card Fraud?
While fraud can take many forms, there are two primary types of credit card fraud that you should keep your eye on as a consumer. They are:
- Application fraud – when a fraudster or Credit Creeper manages to obtain enough personal information about their victim to successfully fill out a credit card application in their victim’s name, or creates convincing counterfeit documents, in order to open an unauthorized credit card account. Application fraud schemes can be particularly serious because the victim may not find out about fraudulent accounts in their name until it is too late.
- Account takeover – this refers to the criminal hijacking of an existing credit card account by a Credit Creeper; this most often occurs when a perp obtains enough personal information about their victim to actually change the account’s billing address. The fraudster can then contact the credit card issuer and report the original card lost or stolen, at which point they ask for a new card to be issued and sent to an address not associated with the actual cardholder. Once this happens, the Credit Creeper activates the new card and begins to make fraudulent purchases with it. (Note: This method is slightly riskier for fraudsters, since the original card must be deactivated and the cardholder may realize quickly, if they attempt to make a purchase with it and it is subsequently declined.)
How Can Credit Creepers Get My Information?
Credit creeps, fraudsters, thieves, and ne’er-do-wells have developed a plethora of schemes to swipe your personal information (and swipe your credit card!). Some of the most common shenanigans to look out for are:
- Skimming – Credit creepers are smart, and as technology has advanced, so has the tech that thieves use to create loopholes in data protection. Skimming refers to a process wherein a credit creeper uses a skimming device to compromise an ATM, or a gasoline pump, in order to collect credit and debit card numbers and PIN codes. Skimming devices often are indistinguishable from the actual machine they are attached to, which means that you may not notice it while paying at the pump or withdrawing money outside a bank. Card skimmers are increasingly common at gas stations, and can even be found at ATMs, both at banks and inside of convenience stores. Learn more about how to protect yourself from credit card skimming here.
- Hacking/data Leaks – Believe it or not, there is a large and lucrative black market for personal data. Hackers will target credit bureaus, credit card issuers, email servers, and even the servers of retail companies in order to steal valuable information like Social Security numbers and PINs and passwords, which they later sell to the highest bidder. Credit creepers can use this stolen information to perform application fraud, or account takeovers, or both – and fraudulent applications occur most often after a data breach like the one Experian experienced in 2017, or the one Capital One reported in the summer of 2019.
- Outright theft – Some frauds are pickpockets and will take your wallet from your back pocket or an unattended purse, while other credit creepers target credit cards that they swipe right from under your nose while you’re not watching at the register or store counter.
- Intercepting mailed cards (mail theft) – Most credit card issuers take steps to prevent this, but some thieves still choose to mine private mail for cash and checks, or to obtain personal information – and to steal credit and debit cards that have been issued to a consumer. Mail theft, and mail fraud, are felonies in the United States.
Credit creepers may have gotten tech-savvy, but they still resort to older methods in order to scam their victims, too. Always be wary when answering the phone; if you’re not expecting a call from your bank or credit card issuer but you receive a call from someone asking for sensitive personal information, hang up and then contact the company that purportedly reached out to you. Scam artists will often impersonate banks over the phone, or by email, in order to “phish” for the information, they will need to commit application fraud and account takeovers, often targeting the elderly with this sort of racket.
Be wary of Credit Creepers contacting you by phone, email, and even text message. Phishing scams are very commonplace. Here at BestCards.com, we recommend that you NEVER give out your personal information over the phone to someone who has solicited it from you; the same applies to email. Verify that the company, bank, or card issuer is who they say they are before you continue. To protect yourself, do not give account numbers, debit card numbers, or (especially) passwords and PINs to anyone through a phone call, email, or text message unless you are 100% certain that they should be the recipient of such information.
How Can You Tell if a Credit Creeper Has Stolen Your Personal Information?
BestCards.com recommends constant vigilance when it comes to your credit, and your bank accounts. It’s a good idea to review your bank statements on a regular basis, at the very least. Most Credit Creepers are successful because their victims are lackadaisical, and they count on the fact that if they’ve stolen your information and begin to use your credit line or account, you probably won’t notice right away. It helps to keep an eye out for some of the most common clues that your account has been compromised, which may include:
- You begin to see withdrawals from your bank account that you’re unable to explain.
- Merchants begin to refuse your checks.
- You don’t receive your bills, or other mail.
- You begin to receive phone calls from debt collectors who are attempting to collect debt that isn’t yours.
- You check your credit report and discover accounts, or charges, that you did not authorize.
I’ve Been Compromised By a Credit Creeper. What Can I Do?!
When you discover that your information has been compromised, there are several steps you’ll need to take. As Experian says, “The sooner you discover credit fraud, the better.” Every credit card company has a slightly different approach to tackling fraud, but you’ll need to reach out to your card issuer directly to place a stop on your card and let them know that you think you’ve been compromised. Visa® offers a program called Zero Fraud Liability, for example; if your Visa card information is compromised or your card is stolen and used to make purchases that you have not authorized, you’re protected – Visa will not hold you liable for these purchases, if they are reported immediately.
Mastercard also offers its own version, called Mastercard Zero Liability Protection; as with Visa, you are covered by Mastercard when you report the fraudulent transactions to your financial institution without delay. The lesson here? It’s best to monitor your accounts regularly, and do not hesitate to contact your bank or credit card issuer if you notice something out of the ordinary. The easiest way to protect your information after it has been compromised is to request a credit freeze with each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You can also set up fraud alerts, change passwords and PINs, and much more. If you think you’re the victim of identity theft you’ll need to take additional measures, too. Signing up for a credit monitoring service can also help in this situation, too.
Remember, while there are many steps you can take to protect yourself from credit creepers and credit fraud, it’s still possible to have your personal information and accounts compromised. On behalf of the BestCards team, I’d like to say: Stay vigilant!