Credit Building Tips

How Often Do Credit Card Frauds Get Caught?

Shaun Connell
August 28, 2023

When you realize that someone has been using your card without your permission, it's natural to want to track down the criminal and see that they face consequences for their actions. How often do credit card frauds get caught, though? Is there a good chance that the thief who stole your information will be brought in by law enforcement?

The answer is fairly complex, as there are a number of factors that can influence whether credit card thieves are ever caught. These include how sophisticated the criminals are, the type of fraud that was committed, and more.

Solution icon Some experts say that less than 1% of credit card fraudsters are actually caught. While this is disturbing news, it doesn't necessarily mean you're on the hook for unauthorized transactions made by these criminals. Thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, the most you can be liable for when your credit card is used fraudulently is $50.

Let's take a closer look at what you need to know about credit card fraud and how this type of crime is investigated.

What Is Credit Card Fraud?

When an unauthorized individual gains access to your credit card information and makes purchases with that information, they are committing credit card fraud.

person fraudulently using credit card getting caught

There are a number of different ways that fraudsters can get a hold of your personal financial info, including:

  • Stealing physical credit cards
  • Finding lost credit cards
  • Skimming credit card info, such as at ATMs or gas pumps
  • Phishing attempts, such as fake text messages or emails
  • Stealing your mail
  • Accessing your info over public Wi-Fi networks
  • Accessing your info through major data breaches

Whether someone physically has your credit card or has virtually accessed your credit card information, being a victim of credit card fraud can mean you incur unauthorized charges and damage your credit score.

Understanding the Types of Credit Card Fraud

In our increasingly digital world, there are a number of different ways that criminals can gain access to your credit card information. By learning about the different ways that your credit card can be used by crooks, you can help protect yourself from credit card fraud.

Card Not Present Fraud

A fraudster doesn't need to have your actual credit card in hand in order to do damage. When an individual or entity uses your card information without actually having access to your card, it's known as card-not-present fraud.

This type of fraud can be carried out through the mail, over the phone, or online. In 2022, more than $5 billion in losses occurred in the U.S. due to card-not-present fraud alone.


Another method used to gain access to your credit card information is card skimming. Criminals will place devices on unattended card readers, such as gas pumps, ATMs, or point-of-sale terminals. These devices, known as "skimmers," steal the information on a credit card and give thieves what they need to create fraudulent copies of your card.

It is estimated that more than $1 billion every year is lost due to credit card skimming.

Skimmers are designed to be difficult to spot, so you'll want to take extra precautions when you are using an unattended payment terminal or card reader.

Here are some of the ways you can identify card skimmers before you put your card in the slot:

  • Look at the card reader: Are there any pieces of the card reader that aren't in alignment or bulging out? Does anything seem off, or are there parts that look unusually raised? When it seems like something isn't quite right, it's best to play it safe and not enter your card.
  • Inspect the card reader: You can also use your hands to feel around the card reader. If it feels like the machine is coming apart, improperly installed, or not sturdy, it's possible you're dealing with a skimmer.
  • Check the security seal: You can also check the security seal when you're about to put your card in at a gas pump. It's a sign that a skimmer might be installed if there is a broken seal. If the seal isn't intact, you'll want to pay inside and inform the attendant.

Identity Theft

When someone commits fraud or other crimes using your personal information, it's known as identity theft. There were almost 1.4 reports of identity theft in the U.S. in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Have you been the victim of identity theft? Check out my guide to repairing your credit after identity theft and fraud.


Phishing occurs when someone steals your personal information, such as account numbers or passwords, by tricking you into thinking they are contacting you from a reputable organization. This can occur through email or other messages.

Once they gain access to your private info, they might gain access to your accounts themselves or sell your account information to other criminals.

Stolen or Lost Credit Cards

Even though there are a number of ways a fraudster can gain access to your credit card account without ever physically possessing your card, you also need to be concerned about your credit card being stolen or lost.

If your credit card is missing or you think it might have been stolen, you'll want to call the card issuer right away. The quicker you act, the less likely someone else will have the opportunity to use your card to make unauthorized purchases.

Are you trying to boost your financial literacy when it comes to being a responsible cardholder? Check out my articles about whether opening a new card increases your credit score, guaranteed approval credit cards, and getting a credit card before buying a house.

Account Takeover

Another type of credit card fraud is known as an account takeover attack. This is when a criminal gains access to your online accounts with the intent to generate fraudulent transactions or otherwise seek to profit.

man with credit card worried about catching fraudster

Criminals who are involved in account takeover fraud will often purchase private information on the dark web. This information can come from a number of different places, but a prime source is data breaches. In 2020 alone, more than 300 million individuals were impacted by publicly reported data breaches.

Fraudsters will also sometimes use malware, phishing, or other methods in order to get a hold of your info. Once they have one set of usernames and passwords, they might try to log in to other accounts using the same information.

Account takeovers don't put your credit card accounts at risk. Here are just a few of the things that criminals can do with access to different types of accounts you may have:

  • Open a new bank account using your name
  • Purchase a new smartphone through your carrier
  • Order a new credit card from your issuer and make purchases
  • Place orders on restaurant delivery or e-commerce sites
  • Use your bank account to make payments to a fraudulent company
  • Redeem reward points or account credits
  • Access additional personally identifiable information, such as your Social Security number or address
  • Use the information to access other personal accounts
  • Change your account information and lock you out of the account
  • Redirect unemployment or other government benefits
  • Sell your information on the dark web

How Do They Catch Credit Card Fraudsters?

In order to minimize the damage that criminals can do with your credit card information, early detection is essential. If you aren't diligently checking your accounts and credit report, it's possible for fraud to go undetected for a long period of time.

Once you let your credit card issuer know that there have been unauthorized transactions made using your account, they will typically close the card and issue you a new one. At the same time, they will begin a fraud investigation.

There are a number of things that this type of investigation can consist of, including:

  • Contacting the merchant to gain access to more info about the transaction, including the IP address, timestamp, and location data
  • For in-person transactions, they may contact the merchant and ask for relevant security camera footage
  • Searching for activity and behavior patterns that can help identify the perpetrator
  • Filing a police report in order to allow law enforcement to investigate further

Are you wondering whether a small unauthorized transaction will actually be pursued by the cops? Take a look at my guide to whether credit card theft under $500 is investigated by law inforcement.

How Often Do Credit Card Frauds Get Caught?

If you've been the victim of credit card fraud, it's natural to wonder what the chances are that the criminal wreaking havoc on your finances will be caught.

Unfortunately, the truth is that credit card fraudsters are not often caught. According to some estimates, law enforcement agencies only solve less than 1% of all credit card fraud cases.

Though this is fairly disturbing information, the truth is how likely it is for a fraudster to get caught will depend on the type of fraud that was committed. For example, if someone physically stole your card and you believe you know who is responsible, the chances of the thief being caught are much greater than if an unknown actor accessed your information virtually.

Similarly, if a criminal uses a stolen credit card in a brick-and-mortar store, a clerk might notice something suspicious and call the cops. At the end of the day, though, if you don't know the person who committed the crime, you may not ever find out who they are, and they may never face legal repercussions.

Factors That Influence the Likelihood of Catching a Credit Card Fraudster

There are a number of different factors that influence whether or not a fraudster is caught for their criminal activity, including:

  • The type of credit card fraud that was committed
  • How quickly the fraud is noticed and reported to credit card issuers and law enforcement agencies
  • The sophistication of the criminals in covering their tracks
  • Whether the fraud was part of a larger fraud ring
  • Whether the victim knows who the perpetrator is

Why Is It So Hard to Catch Credit Card Fraudsters?

The truth is that criminals stealing credit cards and other personal information can be quite sophisticated. Through the use of advanced technology and anonymous services, it can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly who is committing the crime.

Another reason that credit card thieves aren't often caught is that consumers don't always bother to file a police report. Instead, they contact their credit card issuer or financial institution. Even though an investigation will be launched by the issuer, if the transaction amount isn't high enough they might not file a police report. These types of financial institutions typically have insurance that helps them to cover the loss.

Finally, even if you do report the case to law enforcement, they might not have any success catching the criminal. Smaller fraud cases might sit on the sidelines due to higher-priority cases and limited resources. If there aren't any strong leads in a case, the truth is that police might not dig very deep to try and find the thief.

How Is Fraud Investigated By Credit Card Companies?

Credit card companies will investigate fraud when you report that there has been suspicious activity or unauthorized transactions on your account. In some cases, the issuers will alert you when activity occurs on the account that seems unusual.

The credit card company will typically look at the following when trying to determine whether or not fraud took place:

  • IP address: If the IP address used during a transaction doesn't match the IP address of the cardholder, it can be an indication that fraudulent activity occurred
  • Transaction timestamps: The credit card issuer will look at the date and time that the potentially fraudulent purchase was made
  • Buying patterns: They will also try and identify whether the transaction was unusual based upon the typical behavioral patterns of the cardholder
  • Geolocation data: Using geolocation data, the issuer can potentially get a better sense of the region in which the buyer was located when the transaction occurred
  • Account activity: The issuer will also look at whether there are a number of unauthorized transactions or just one

Credit card issuers might decide to contact law enforcement if they find there is a fraudulent charge or several fraudulent transactions. However, this is more likely if the loss resulting from the fraud that was committed was substantial. If they believe the fraud to be a part of a larger pattern, such as a part of a national fraud ring, they will be more likely to report it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

How Long Does It Usually Take to Catch a Credit Card Thief?

There is no simple answer to this question. The unfortunate reality is that many credit card thieves are never caught. However, in a situation where you believe you know who is responsible or there is a trail of evidence leading to the criminal, your chances are much greater that they will face the consequences of their actions.

Are you wondering what types of consequences a credit card fraudster will face if they are caught? Check out our post about whether credit card fraud is a felony and what the punishment is for the crime.

The Numbers on Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud is one of the most common types of fraud in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were almost 390,000 credit card fraud reports in the year 2021.

If you believe you've been the victim of credit card fraud, you can follow this link to report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

A forecast released by the Nilson Report in the winter of 2022 found that card fraud will likely lead to more than $165 billion dollars in losses over the next decade. In 2022 alone, more than $5 billion was lost to just one type of credit card fraud-- card-not-present fraud.

Behind fraud involving government documents or benefits, credit card fraud was the second most common kind of identity theft in 2021 in the U.S.

Reports of credit card fraud and debit card fraud have been on the rise for years. It's estimated that global fraud losses that are related to either debit or credit cards will reach a whopping $47.22 billion by the year 2031.

How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud

When you look at the numbers on credit card fraud in the U.S., it's easy to start feeling pretty nervous about your physical card or your card information being used by bad actors.

Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from credit card fraud. Here are some of the steps you can take to keep yourself safe from financial harm due to credit card fraud and identity theft:

  • Regularly check your credit report: Keep an eye out for suspicious activity and take action right away when something seems off. You can get free credit reports from all three bureaus using
  • Be aware of your network connection: Avoid making financial transactions or entering other sensitive information when connected to public Wi-Fi.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card statements: Making it a habit to look at your financial statements can help you catch unauthorized transactions quickly.
  • Don't throw sensitive info in the trash: Any documents or mail that have personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card number, or address, should be shredded rather than thrown out.
  • Don't use simple passwords: When creating passwords for your online accounts, make sure they are not obvious or easy to guess.
  • Be wary of giving out credit card info over the phone: Unless you initiated the call yourself, don't give out any of your credit card info over the phone. If an institution calls you and you believe they are legitimate, give them a call back using the number on the back of your card, or that is available on their website.

Additional Prevention Tips

Going the extra mile when it comes to protecting yourself from credit card fraud could mean you avoid dealing with the headaches of being an identity theft victim. Here are a few more things you can do to keep yourself safe from credit card fraud:

  • Use multi-factor authentication for online accounts: This type of authentication requires that you verify your identity in at least two ways before you can access your account.
  • Make sure websites are secure: Before you enter any personal information on a website, make sure it is secure-- aka the URL starts with https:// and not http://.
  • Use a credit monitoring service: There are a number of credit monitoring services you can use, such as Credit Karma, Experian, and CreditWise, to receive alerts about unusual activity on your accounts.

Prevention Is the Best Cure For Credit Card Fraud

If someone used your card information fraudulently, it can be pretty disturbing to realize that these criminals aren't often caught. However, the likelihood that the thief will actually be tracked down by law enforcement goes up quite a bit if you know who they are or if they left a trail of evidence during their crimes.

When it comes to credit card fraud, the good news is that you can seriously limit the damage it causes you by monitoring your credit reports and accounts regularly. Beyond that, by taking steps to protect your credit card information, there are a number of things you can do to prevent credit card fraud from ever occurring.

Finally, even if you do end up becoming a fraud victim despite your efforts, early detection, and swift action can ensure you aren't the one footing the bill for unauthorized transactions made by criminals.

Are you on a journey to build credit and clean up your credit report? Make sure you check out our Credit Building Tips blog for more guides, articles, and resources to help you along the way.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell is a personal finance and credit expert with a passion for helping individuals eliminate debt and improve their credit. He's enjoyed writing investing and financial content for over 15 years, with expertise in real estate, debt, banking, credit, and wealth building. His work has been seen by millions on the web.

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