5 Unexpected Places Where Your Credit Card Can Get StolenThere are times when you know enough to brace yourself for a credit card theft attempt, like if you’re shopping on a sketchy website or getting a call from someone claiming to be your computer’s tech support. On the other hand, there are situations where you have your guard down, and the normal alarm bells in your brain that go off when you encounter something suspicious just don’t work. Credit card thieves love those situations, and they use them to approach you in ways you aren’t suspecting in order to steal your credit card information without your notice. However, if you’re aware of their tactics in advance, you have a much better chance of making it out without getting your credit card stolen. To help you keep your card safe, here are five unusual places where criminals may try to steal your credit card through scams or hacking.

Unexpected locations for credit card theft

Hotel rooms: Hotels are all about hospitality, and they try their best to make you feel safe and comfortable. So, when someone calls your hotel room saying they’re a hotel employee and they need to verify your credit card details right away, you may not think much of it. That’s exactly what scammers count on, though, as they exploit the sense of security hotels provide and guests’ weariness from travel to find easy targets for credit card theft via voice phishing. To throw you off, hotel room phishers may try to call you in the middle of the night, act extremely polite and apologetic, offer you a discount on your room for troubling you or even give you the option of coming down to the front desk to confirm your credit card information in person, knowing you probably won’t take it. In general, be very hesitant to give credit card information over the phone to someone who called you and remember that hotel employees will not call your room asking for your personal information.

Airports: Flying is stressful for a lot of people, and while your mind is focused on keeping track of your luggage and staying on schedule, you may not think anything of connecting to the airport’s public Wi-Fi to get some pre-boarding business done. However, that can be a big mistake as not all airports have the best network security, and some airports are magnets for hackers. For example, security researchers visiting the San Diego International Airport found a Wi-Fi access point with the same name as the airport’s official Wi-Fi network, except it redirected web traffic through an unknown third party. A decoy airport Wi-Fi network, or a compromised legitimate one, can deliver anything you enter into your computer or mobile device to a cybercriminal, including your credit card details, social security number and confidential information. Try to avoid using the Wi-Fi at airports (or on a plane for that matter), but if you’re in a bind and desperately need some data, at least use a VPN to help keep your connection private.

Gas stations: Gas stations are a favorite target for crooks who use skimmers and shims, concealed devices that are installed on or in credit card readers that harvest card details. When you swipe your card in a gas station pump with a skimmer or shim, the machine will either store your payment data or wirelessly send it to a nearby laptop (via Bluetooth or other wireless connections), and there may be a nearby camera or a fake keypad overlay to collect the ZIP code or PIN you enter into the pump as well. You can sometimes find skimmers that are installed on the exterior of the pump by tugging on the card reader, as they’re often fairly loose so they’re easy to retrieve, though shims that criminals insert inside of card readers are usually incredibly hard to notice without specialized tools. If you’re worried about getting your credit card stolen by a skimmer or shim, you either can go inside the gas station to pay for your gas, or use pumps that are close to the cashier’s field of view. Skimmer and shim installers may opt to skip these pumps because they risk being spotted.

Doctor’s offices: While this entry may be a little alarming to see, you probably don’t need to worry about getting your credit card stolen by your physician. It’s not that medical professionals are notorious credit card thieves, but rather that doctor’s offices tend to keep a lot of records containing sensitive patient information, making them a big target for data heists. Although medical identity thieves tend to focus more on stealing social security numbers and insurance information, if your doctor’s office keeps your credit card on file to handle expenses, they’ll happily take that too. To keep your credit card and other information out of their hands, protection starts when you fill out your medical forms. If the forms you’re filling out have a space for your social security number and credit card details, ask if you need to provide that information to receive care, as well as how the medical office will use and protect your information. While there are some situations in which a doctor may truly need your social security number to see you, asking for a record of credit card details often comes down to the physician’s preference.

Restaurants: If a person wanted to steal credit card numbers with as little effort as possible, a sit-down restaurant in the U.S. may be one of the best places to do it. When you pay for a meal with a credit card, servers often take your card out of your sight for several minutes, during which time a rogue employee can swipe it with a pocket skimmer to collect the details or even just write the information down in a notebook. Despite how simple it is, this method of credit card thievery is also very difficult to discover, as the workers who do it often sell the information to crime organizations instead of using it themselves. It’s also hard to prevent, short of paying for all of your meals using cash or a contactless payment system like Apple Pay or Google Pay. Unless the worker gets caught, the only way to protect yourself from a server stealing your card details is to practice good general credit card security.

How to deal with credit card theft

While it’s easy to be paranoid about having your credit card stolen, the truth is that credit cards are actually one of the safest payment methods you can use. Here are a few security practices to mitigate and handle credit card theft, no matter how it happens.

Know your rights: The Fair Credit Billing Act gives all consumers in the U.S. protection from unauthorized credit card charges. If your credit card gets lost or stolen, your liability for illicit purchases made with your card tops out at $50. If you report your card as missing before any illicit purchases are made, or if only your card information is stolen, your liability for unauthorized charges drops to $0. Since most credit cards provide $0 fraud liability to cardholders, you’re often not responsible for any fraudulent purchases made with your card regardless of when you report them.

Set spending alerts: With many credit cards, you can set up spending alerts that will automatically text or email you whenever your credit card is used to make a purchase above a certain amount. While credit card issuers already monitor cards for suspicious activity, spending alerts can help you catch anything your credit card’s fraud department may miss.

Check your statement often: To catch credit card theft as soon as possible, regularly go over your credit card statements, looking at each charge to make sure you remember making it. Be suspicious even of small charges that you don’t recognize, as sometimes criminals will limit their spending to small amounts hoping you won’t question them. If you spot anything abnormal, report it to your credit card issuer immediately.

Getting your credit card stolen can be a headache, but you can avoid the fallout if you recognize the tactics thieves use and keep up with your card activity. To stay ahead of swindlers of all stripes, follow our scams blog.