How to identify a fraudulent credit card

From the numbers on the front of the card to the logo and signature panel, here’s how you can spot a fake credit card before it’s used.

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Credit card fraud is an issue both in stores and online, with technology offering criminals many different ways to get and use card data. This includes illegally obtaining someone’s actual card details or generating fake credit card numbers that look like the real deal. Once they have card details that work, criminals can use them to make online purchases or print out a fake credit card that can be used in bricks-and-mortar stores.

If you run your own business or work in a shop, being able to identify a fraudulent card could save you a lot of money and time. So here you’ll find details of what to look for on each credit card, including specific features for Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

How much does credit card fraud cost Australians?

Data from the Australian Payments Network shows that fraud on cards issued by Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club cost Australians $550.7 million between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018. This data found that card-not-present (i.e. online) fraud was the most common issue and accounted for 85% of all fraud on Australian cards (including debit cards).

However, counterfeit/skimming fraud – which could be used to create fake cards – had a total cost of $23 million. And lost or stolen card fraud made up 9% of all fraud and cost $51 million. These figures show it’s still important to be wary of fake and suspicious cards at the checkout.

Full guide to credit card fraud, traps and scams

What to look for on any credit card

No matter what type of credit card is used, it should always include the following features:

  • Card number. The card or account number is the main set of digits on the card. This is the number you would type in when making an online purchase and it also helps verify payments made in-store.
  • Cardholder’s name. The name of the cardholder should be clearly printed on the card. In Australia, it’s typically on the front of the card, underneath the account number (although it can vary).
  • Embossed numbers and letters. Most Australian credit cards have account numbers and names imprinted on the card with metallic embossing. Even if the metallic shine has worn off, you should feel the bumps from these symbols when you run your finger across the card.
  • Expiry date. Check that the card has a valid expiry date and note how long it is valid. Generally, cards should expire around three to four years from the date they were issued. So, for example, if a card issued in 2018 showed an expiry date in 2030, you could question its legitimacy.
  • Magnetic stripe. All credit cards have a magnetic stripe that could be used to swipe the card at a payment terminal. Most Australian credit cards also have an embedded microchip on the front right-hand side that you would insert into a payment terminal.
  • Signature panel. Legally, credit cards must have a signature panel that is signed. However, some people choose not to sign their card, so it’s not always a sign of fraud. But if you doubt the validity based on the signature, ask for a form of photo ID and check that the name on it matches the one on the card.
  • Card verification code. Also known as a CVC or CVV (card verification value), this is a three- or four-digit number used to authenticate online transactions. It’s on the signature panel for all Visa and Mastercard credit cards as well as many American Express cards. However, some Amex cards may have the four-digit CVC printed on the front of the card. If you don’t see the CVC on a physical card, it could be a fake.

Visa credit cards

actual Visa credit card

  • Visa logo. Visa credit cards usually have the Visa logo on the front of the card, in the lower right-hand corner. Sometimes it will be blue on a white background, but it could also just be the name in Visa’s signature lettering.
  • Card number starting with 4. All Visa card numbers start with a 4 and are 16 digits long. The numbers are also broken up into four groups of four numbers.
  • Hologram. A square, metallic hologram showing a dove will be on either the front or the back of the Visa credit card. When you move the card, it should look like the dove’s wings are slightly moving as well.
  • Signature panel background. Most Visa credit cards in Australia have a striped pattern on the background. Some also include the last four digits of the card number, right next to the CVC.

Mastercard credit cards

actual Mastercard credit card

  • Mastercard logo. Look for the Mastercard logo with two overlapping circles, keeping in mind it could be printed on the front or back of a Mastercard credit card.
  • Card number starting with 5. Just as all Visa cards start with a 4, all Mastercard credit cards start with a 5. They also have 16 digits, spaced in blocks of four.
  • Hologram. Mastercard credit cards have an oval-shaped hologram that shows two overlapping worlds. This is similar in size to the Mastercard logo.
  • Signature panel background. Mastercard signature panels usually repeat the word “Mastercard”, although it may have the old “MasterCard” capitalisation.

American Express credit cards

actual AMEX ctredit card

  • American Express logo. American Express cards typically have a blue square with either “American Express” or “Amex” printed on it. Some cards also have the centurion figure, or AMERICAN EXPRESS printed in block letters along the side of the card.
  • Card number starting with 3. Amex cards start with the number 3 and have 15 digits in total. These are spaced in blocks of 4, 6 and 5 digits.
  • Signature panel details. Similar to Mastercard, the signature panel on an American Express card usually has “American Express” printed on it.

Other details to look out for

As well as the actual credit card, keep an eye out for these potential signs someone is trying to use a fraudulent credit card in your store.

  • Uneven numbers on the card. Even if the numbers are embossed, check to see if they are printed in a straight line. Crooked numbers could indicate it’s a badly printed fake.
  • Scratched or defaced cards. If the front of the card is beaten up so you can’t check details such as the name, or if the signature panel is scratched away, it’s safer not to accept a payment. Explain that you can’t accept the card in that condition and suggest the person use another payment option.
  • Someone who spends more than your usual customers. If someone is buying a lot of expensive items, it could be because they want to make the most of a fraudulent card before it’s reported.
  • Someone who asks to pay for purchases in smaller, separate transactions. If someone asks to pay for items in separate transactions of under $100, they could be trying to get around the no-PIN option offered for tap-and-go cards.
  • Nervousness or fidgeting. If someone is constantly looking around the store, checking their phone or just generally seems restless, it could be because they know they are doing the wrong thing. When that’s the case, be extra careful to check the credit card they use. You may also want to ask if you can check their bag, just in case they are stealing.
  • Exaggerated friendliness. While some people get nervous when they are breaking the law, others may have a sense of bravado about them. So when someone seems overly friendly or loud and it doesn’t seem quite right, trust your instincts.

What should I do if I think someone is paying with a fraudulent card?

If you spot a card that looks suspicious, you don’t have to accept it for the payment. Remain calm and explain to the person that the card won’t be accepted.

If there are visible signs of tampering, you could also call the company or bank that has issued the card and ask them to confirm it is valid. If you feel anxious or threatened, call your manager, a security officer or your local police station.

Compare credit cards with fraud protection guarantees

Updated February 20th, 2020
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate Annual fee
Westpac Low Rate Card
2019 Winner
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 16 months
$59 p.a.
A no frills, low rate card offering 0% p.a. interest on balance transfers for the first 16 months, with no balance transfer fee.
American Express Platinum Edge Credit Card
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$195 p.a.
Receive a yearly $200 Travel Credit and complimentary domestic and international travel insurance, plus 0% p.a. for 12 months on balance transfers.
American Express Westpac Altitude Platinum Bundle
20.24% p.a. (AMEX)

20.49% p.a. (Visa/MC)
$150 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
Collect up to 110,000 bonus Altitude Points when you meet T&Cs with Mastercard (issued by Westpac) & Amex (issued by Amex).
Virgin Money Low Rate Credit Card
11.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 14 months
$49 p.a.
Get a $49 annual fee, 10% cashback on purchases made in the first 3 months (capped at $100) and a 14-month balance transfer. Ends 24 Feb 2020.
Westpac Altitude Black - Velocity
20.49% p.a.
$300 p.a.
Earn 80,000 bonus Velocity Points when you meet the spend requirement. Plus, complimentary seat upgrades and lounge passes.
BankSA Vertigo
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months
$55 p.a.
Enjoy a 0% p.a. interest rate for up to 18 months on balance transfers. Plus, a low annual fee and purchase interest rate.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum - Qantas
19.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months
$99 p.a.
Receive 60,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days and earn up to 0.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent.
Bank of Melbourne Vertigo Classic
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months
$55 p.a.
Enjoy 0% p.a. interest for up to 18 months on balance transfers. Plus, a low annual fee and competitive purchase rate.
St.George Amplify Platinum - Online Offer
19.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months
$99 p.a.
Get 100,000 bonus Amplify Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days. Plus, a balance transfer offer of 0% interest for 22 months.
St.George Vertigo Platinum
0% for 15 months, reverts to 12.99% p.a.
6.99% p.a. for 12 months
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Features an introductory 0% p.a. purchase rate, $49 first year annual fee and complimentary travel insurance covers.

Compare up to 4 providers

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    kristineMay 23, 2019

    The cardholder’s name doesn’t appear on the credit card slip?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JeniMay 24, 2019Staff

      Hi Kristine,

      Thank you for getting in touch with Finder.

      Does the physical card has name on it? If none, you may ask the credit cardholder on the type of card they have as some prepaid credit card doesn’t print the cardholder’s name on it. If yes, some EFTPOS or machines may not print all that you see on the credit cardholder’s card. If you find that the transaction is suspicious, you may ring the provider to inform them about the suspicious transaction. If you are the cardholder and in doubt with the receipt you got, please contact your provider right away to discuss your transaction.

      I hope this helps.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!


  2. Default Gravatar
    joanOctober 21, 2014

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

    • Avatarfinder 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.



Credit Cards Comparison

Updated February 20th, 2020
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate Annual fee
HSBC Platinum Credit Card - Balance Transfer Offer
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 22 months
$129 p.a.
Enjoy a balance transfer offer, yearly annual fee refund, airport lounge passes and complimentary insurance covers.
St.George Vertigo Classic
13.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months
$55 p.a.
Get 0% interest for up to 18 months on balance transfers with no balance transfer fee. Plus, a low annual fee and purchase rate.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
19.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 6 months with 2% balance transfer fee
$295 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Collect up to 120,000 bonus Qantas Points. Get 90k when you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first 60 days and 30k after 12 months.
Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard
21.99% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Save with 0% foreign transaction fees on purchases. Plus, complimentary flight delay passes and a global wifi access.

Compare up to 4 providers

* The credit card offers compared on this page are chosen from a range of credit cards has access to track details from and is not representative of all the products available in the market. Products are displayed in no particular order or ranking. The use of terms 'Best' and 'Top' are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. You should consider seeking independent financial advice and consider your own personal financial circumstances when comparing cards.

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