A day in the life of a common credit card crook


Know uour credit card fraudster

No longer the realm of solo malcontents, card fraud has grown into a sophisticated industry with multiple layers of criminals stealing, transmitting and profiting from stolen consumer data.

  • Know your credit card fraudster
  • A day in the life of a credit card crook  

Credit card crooks -- those who make, buy and then use stolen credit cards or credit card numbers -- have workdays just like the rest of us. Those with day jobs squeeze their illegal, profitable sideline in during the morning, at lunch or after work. Others work at this enterprise full time.

These crooks are at the bottom level of a criminal enterprise that begins with high-level malware writers creating code to hack credit card databases at retailers and financial institutions. It ends with boots on the ground or online using your card or card number to make purchases. (For job descriptions of the eight types of players, see "Know your credit card fraudster.")

Here's a glimpse into a day in the life of a common credit card crook. 

Early morning
Rise, shine and check out underground websites where you can buy a few or a thousand stolen numbers for credit, gift or debit cards. You'll need a login and a password. Search for MasterCard, Visa or other card brands and for cards linked to certain parts of the country. You can also search for cards with PINs and/or the owners' ZIP codes or entire home addresses.

Late morning

Late morning
If you're planning to make fake credit cards, it's time to get started. You already have an imprint machine, magnetic card writer and blank credit card stock -- all purchased legally for about $1,000. You make as many cards as you'll need later today, imprinting the new cards with the numbers you purchased. 

Or, you may be imprinting hotel keys you have on hand or putting a new magnetic stripe onto old credit cards. When you use such a refurbished card, you'll hope the merchant doesn't ask to see the card after you swipe it -- because the card number on the refurbished magnetic stripe doesn't match what's imprinted on the credit card.

Early afternoon

Early afternoon
If you opted to skip making new cards and just use the hacked card numbers online, your peak shopping time is noon to 1 p.m., maybe your lunch break from your day job. The average card-not-present fraudster spends $900 in five days.

If you have new fake cards, you're ready to test them at an unsupervised location such as a vending machine or gas station. You make a small purchase to verify that the card actually works.

Late afternoon

Late afternoon
If the card checks out, it's time to shop. Your goal is to buy jewelry, electronics or other high-end items you can easily sell. You may drive down the interstate, hitting every Apple store along the way. Or perhaps you'll zero in on grocery stores and buy gift cards to resell.

The peak time for using fraudulent cards is 4-5 p.m. The average fraudster using an actual card spends about $450 in seven days -- it's not as lucrative as card-not-present crime but it's easier if you don't want to hassle with fake shipping addresses and proxy servers.


You start selling the jewelry, electronics, gift cards and other items you bought.


Time for bed -- you want to start early tomorrow to get a jump on your competition.



See related: Online fraud may surge after EMV chip card rollout, After the breach: Should you enroll in ID or credit monitoring services?

Published: January 26, 2015

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Updated: 10-25-2016

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