How to identify a fraudulent credit card

Credit card forgeries continue to get more sophisticated, and the numbers of fraudulent credit cards in circulation continue to increase. Do you have what it takes to detect one?

Advancements in technology come with a number of benefits, but there are pitfalls as well. There is, for instance, a steady rise in the use of fraudulent credit cards, which include forged, counterfeit, cloned, and altered credit cards. The good thing is if you know what to look for and where, you can still manage to spot a fake credit card when you see one.

By the time you get to the bottom on this page, you should have a good idea of what to look for in distinguishing the real deal from the not, especially when it comes to Visa, Mastercard, and American Express credit cards. Others like Diners Club and JCB credit cards come with similar security features as well.


Visa front of credit card

The front end on your Visa credit card would carry varying background graphics, depending on your card provider, but certain aspects remain the same across all Visa credit cards.

  • A pre-printed number appears just below the embossed number, and matches the first four digits of the embossed number. You cannot remove this number by simply scratching it.
  • Look for a valid expiration (‘good thru’ or ‘until end’) date. This date should not be too many years into the future.
  • The ‘V’ in Visa should be a stylised flying V and not a conventional capital V.
  • Look for a properly embossed and easy to read account number, and match this with the account number you see on the sales receipt.
  • Look for a three-dimensional hologram, which appears to move when you tilt the card under light.

Visa back of credit card

Back of Visa Credit Card

  • The word "Visa" should be repeated in blue and gold at 45 degrees across the white signature panel.
  • The account number, or part of, should match the account number on the front. This and any three-digit security code should be in reverse italics.
  • The signature should match the one offered.


Mastercard front of credit card

Front of Mastercard

Checking for the authenticity of a Mastercard credit card requires that you pay attention to the following aspects when looking at the card’s front.

  • If a photo exists on the card, compare it with the individual presenting the card.
  • A four digit number that appears under the embossed number must match the embossed number’s first four digits, and you cannot scratch this number away.
  • Make sure the expiration date is valid.
  • If an ‘MC’ appears on the card, it should not be in regular font, but should be stylised and merged to appear as one.
  • Look for a properly embossed account number.
  • Look for a three-dimensional hologram that changes from text to logo when tilted under light.

Mastercard back of credit card

Back of Mastercard

Going through the back side of the card should also give you some indication of the genuineness of the card.

  • You can find the word ‘Mastercard’ in different colours at 45 degree angles spread across the white signature strip.
  • The account number and the security code appear in italics, and the account number at the back matches the account number in front.
  • The signature at the back of the card and on the sales receipt are the same.

American Express

American Express front of credit card

The process to identify a genuine or fraudulent American Express credit card is not very different from the previous two, and here’s what you need to know when looking at the front.

  • The embossed number is clear, clean, and easy to read, and this number matches the account number on the sales receipt.
  • The expiration date is valid.
  • You may find a four digit card identification number towards the right of the card, which you cannot scratch.

American Express back of credit card

back of american express credit card

When you’re looking at the back of an American Express credit card, here’s what you need to consider:

  • A wavelike pattern appears across the white signature panel at a 45-degree angle.
  • The account number is the same as the one that appears on the front.
  • The signature on the card matches that on the sales receipt.

What else should I be wary of?

If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a genuine card or a fraudulent one, exercising some caution is always a good idea. Here are some factors you should consider:

  • Non-functional magnetic strips. Some counterfeiters don’t put in the time or effort to correctly coordinate magnetic strip data with details on the card’s front, and in such instances, they might scratch or demagnetise the magnetic strip.
  • Skewed and uneven numbers. The numbers that appear embossed on the card’s front should appear evenly aligned and spaced. Without access to top-of-the-line equipment, perfection is this realm is hard for a counterfeiter to accomplish.
  • Correlation of payment processor and account number. The account number on the card has a direct connection to the payment processor. American Express cards begin with 3, Visa cards begin with 4, and Mastercard cards begin with 5. Not every counterfeiter pays attention to this, so you might be able to catch some faults here.
  • Signature strip. The signature strip on the back of the card makes use of a completely different material when compared to the card’s plastic, and is always white. Any different, and you’ve got reason to be wary.

While the use of fraudulent credit cards does not seem to be going away in a hurry, making sure you check the cards that come your way carefully can ensure that you don’t end up transacting with one. If you feel you might be dealing with a fraudulent card, confirming the same with the card provider is certainly not out of place, and you can even consider seeking assistance from the police.

Frequently asked questions

    Visit the ASIC website for information on protecting yourself against credit card fraud

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    2 Responses

    1. Default Gravatar
      joanOctober 21, 2014

      the first 4 digits number for master card or visa card are all the same?

      • finder Customer Care
        ElizabethOctober 22, 2014Staff

        Hi Joan,

        Thanks for your question.

        The first four digits for MasterCard and Visa are not the same, each card number is unique.

        I hope this has helped.



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