Criminals may steal or buy credit card and debit card information to commit card fraud. They often conduct small payment tests to see if the cards are valid before trying to make larger fraudulent purchases or withdrawals.
Learn about card testing fraud and possible things to do if credit card information is stolen.
Card testing fraud — sometimes called card checking, carding, or account testing — refers to the process that criminals may use to determine whether debit and credit cards work, typically by attempting small transactions with the card details.
Generally, criminals are testing card account information that they stole or bought online to determine whether the card has already been canceled or locked. They may also be guessing card details and using the test to check their guesses.
If a cardholder notices that their credit or debit card was stolen and locks the card or reports the theft, a card test will likely fail. Similarly, deactivated accounts and guessed card details that don't correspond with a real card will typically fail card testing.
If the card passes a test and the card is still active, criminals could go on to commit substantial card fraud — using the card to make larger fraudulent purchases, unauthorized withdrawals, or selling the stolen card's details to other criminals.
There are two common methods for testing stolen credit card details:
Criminals may steal or buy thousands of card details and test them all to see which cards are still valid. Manually going card by card would likely take too long. It’s possible for criminals to use large networks of compromised computers to quickly test thousands of stolen cards at a time.
For cardholders, an unexpected payment or authorization could be an indication that their card's details have been stolen. If they don't notice, they may wind up paying the credit card bill or allowing the fraudsters to get away with using their debit card.
Some card issuers may not hold consumers liable for unauthorized transactions that are reported immediately. This means people could have to request a new card and update payment details, but there won't necessarily be financial repercussions if the card issuer offers fraud protection.
Some of the common ways credit card numbers are stolen include:
Consumers can help protect themselves from some of these methods by learning how to identify fake messages and using safe payment options. For example, tapping a card or using a digital wallet can help keep a card's details hidden from skimming devices.
However, even the best protections may not protect cardholders from every type of attack. That's why monitoring accounts for fraudulent activity is important. Some companies, such as PayPal, also provide fraud monitoring for card testing by detecting and alerting customers to unusual activity so they can take quick action to secure any compromised accounts.
When someone suspects that their card is lost, stolen, or compromised, it's important to report the loss or theft as soon as they’re able and freeze their card account. Card issuers can then work to keep criminals from fraudulently using stolen card numbers, while cardholders can take steps to get a replacement card.
The process to report fraudulent activity or stolen card numbers will depend on the card issuer. Some methods to do so may be: