How to Spot a Fake Debit or Credit Card

How to Spot a Fake Debit or Credit Card article image.

While the emergence of debit and credit cards with EMV chips has greatly reduced the use of counterfeit cards, it can still be a problem that causes financial distress for both consumers and merchants.

While big businesses may be able to absorb the financial damages fake cards cause, small businesses are particularly at risk. Fraudulent transactions made with these cards can lead to a high volume of charge-backs, which can seriously hurt a smaller company's financial health and potentially lead to interruptions in operations. Consumers, meanwhile, can face financial and credit repercussions if their personal information is used to create a fake card. Clearing one's name after identity theft can require additional hassles as well.

Wondering how to detect a fake debit or credit card? Though they might look the same, fake cards have subtle variations of standard features. And some credit card companies, including American Express, Visa and Mastercard, include markers unique to their company that make it easier to spot counterfeits.

Signs That a Debit or Credit Card Is Fake

Here are some tips to help you spot a counterfeit debit or credit card:

1. The Numbers on the Card Don't Line Up

If you look closely at your debit or credit card, the numbers are evenly spaced and precisely lined up. Counterfeit cards tend to have crooked numbers and uneven gaps between the digits because an aftermarket embossing machine usually imprints each digit separately. Some fake credit cards also have numbers of varying sizes.

2. The Account Number Does Not Match the Card Issuer

Major credit card issuers use the following digit at the beginning of their card numbers:

  • 34 or 37: American Express
  • 4: Visa
  • 5: Mastercard
  • 6: Discover

Some fraudsters fail to do their due diligence and mismatch the first digit of the card with the correct card issuer. To illustrate, a debit or credit card with a Discover logo and a card number that starts with 3 is a clear indicator of fraud.

3. The Hologram or Signature Panels Look Odd

American Express embeds a hologram into the magnetic strip of some cards, and Mastercard places it on the front or back of their cards. Visa includes its hologram on the front or back of cards without the Premium Visa Brand Mark (PVBM). If the hologram appears to be two-dimensional, dull or damaged, the card could be a counterfeit.

Also, check the signature panel on the back of the card to ensure its authenticity. If it looks altered or is any color except for white, you may be dealing with a fake card.

4. The CVV Code Is Missing

The card verification value (CVV) is included on most debit and credit cards to help reduce the occurrence of fraudulent digital transactions. Discover, Mastercard and Visa include this three- or four-digit number on the back of debit and credit cards above or inside the signature strip. If you have an American Express card, the CVV can be found on the card front directly above the logo. However, if the CVV is missing, the debit or credit card could be fake.

5. The Strip on the Card Is Damaged, or the Chip Is Missing

Fraudsters sometimes alter, scratch or remove the magnetic strip or chip from counterfeit debit and credit cards to prevent them from being swiped at the register. A nonfunctional magnetic strip or missing chip prompts the cashier to manually enter the card number into the terminal to process the fraudulent transaction.

6. The Last Four Digits on the Receipt Differ From What's on the Card

You can spot a fake debit or credit card by comparing the receipt with the card number. If the last four digits printed on the receipt differ from what appears on the card, it is likely a counterfeit.

How to Handle Credit Card Fraud

Do you think you might be the victim of credit card fraud? Take these steps promptly to help lessen the impact:

  • Notify your bank, credit union or credit card issuer about the fraudulent activity. Follow their procedure to file a claim, and provide any requested information.
  • Add a fraud alert to your credit report. A fraud alert on your credit report requires a lender to take an extra step to confirm your identity before processing a credit. Fraud alerts make it challenging for thieves to open additional credit accounts in your name. If you add a fraud alert to your credit report with one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax), the others will be notified and alerts added to those reports as well.
  • Consider adding a security freeze to your credit file. A security freeze helps shield you from identity theft and fraud in the future by restricting access to your credit report. You'll need to contact each credit bureau individually to put the freeze in place. Your credit report will not be accessible by creditors until you lift the freeze.
  • Contact the FTC to report the incident. Visit the FTC website to file a complaint, or call 877-438-4338.
  • File a report with your local law enforcement agency or police department. Bring a copy of your government-issued ID, proof of address, FTC Identity Theft Report and any other relevant information or documents.
  • Dispute any fraudulent transactions. The creditor should remove any fraudulent information reported to the credit bureaus. If not, you can file a dispute with the appropriate credit bureau or bureaus.

To keep a close eye on your credit, consider Experian's free credit monitoring service. You'll be able to check your credit report and score for free, and receive alerts anytime there's activity in your credit file.