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The term cloning might bring to mind biological experiments or science fiction, but credit card cloning is a problem that affects consumers in everyday life. Credit card cloning refers to creating a fraudulent copy of a credit card. It happens when a crook steals your credit card information, then uses the information to create a fake card.
“Cloning is bad news, both in science fiction and in credit cards,” says Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com and a personal finance author.
How Does Credit Card Cloning Work?
There are two major steps in credit card cloning: obtaining credit card information, then creating a fake card that can be used for purchases.
Stealing credit card information. Thieves steal your credit card data: your name, along with the credit card number and expiration date. Often, thieves use skimming or shimming to obtain this information.
Skimming frequently happens at gas pumps or ATMs. But it also can occur when you hand your card over for payment, especially if it leaves your sight. For instance, a shady waiter skims your credit card data with a handheld device.
In a typical skimming scam, a crook attaches a device to a card reader and electronically copies, or skims, data from the magnetic strip on the back of a credit card.
Similarly, shimming steals information from chip-enabled credit cards. According to credit bureau Experian, shimming works by inserting a thin device known as a shim into a slot on a card reader that accepts chip-enabled cards. The shim, equipped with a microchip and flash storage, then copies data from your credit card. Although that information can’t be used to clone another chip-enabled card, it can create a magnetic-strip version of the card, Experian says.
Creating a cloned credit card. Crooks use stolen data to clone credit cards and make fraudulent purchases with the counterfeit version. Armed with data from your credit card, they use credit card cloning machines to make new cards, with some thieves making hundreds of cards at a time.
Not to be stopped when asked for identification, some credit card thieves put their own names (or names from a fake ID) on the new, fake cards so their ID and the name on the card will match.
Any cards that don’t work are typically discarded as thieves move on to try the next one. Cloned cards may not work for very long. Card issuer fraud departments or cardholders may quickly catch on to the fraudulent activity and deactivate the card.