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.

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 $544.5 million in 2017. This data, published in 2018, found that card-not-present (ie online) fraud was the most common issue and accounted for 87.5% of all fraud.

However, counterfeit/skimming fraud – which could be used to create fake cards – had a total cost of $18.9 million. It’s also worth noting that lost or stolen card fraud increased by 7.4% compared to figures from 2016 and cost $38 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

Rates last updated February 21st, 2019
Name Product Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate Annual fee Product Description
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Exclusive Offer
0% p.a. for 14 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
0% p.a. for 6 months
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
finder Exclusive: Save on credit card costs with half the annual fee for the first year and a 0% p.a. interest rate on purchases for 14 months.
ANZ Low Rate
12.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 15 months
$58 p.a.
Save with a 0% p.a. introductory rate on balance transfers for 15 months with no BT fee. Plus a low 12.49% p.a. interest rate on purchases.
ANZ First Visa Credit Card
19.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months with 2% balance transfer fee
$30 p.a.
Get up to 18 months interest-free on balance transfers and save with a low $30 annual fee. Plus, up to 44 days interest-free on purchases.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Save with a $64 first year annual fee and 0% p.a. balance transfer offer. Plus, receive a $129 Virgin Australia Gift Voucher each year.
American Express Velocity Escape Card
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 12 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$0 p.a.
Earn uncapped Velocity Points on purchases, pay $0 annual fee for life and take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 12 months balance transfer offer.
Westpac Low Rate Card
13.49% p.a.
0% p.a. for 24 months with 1% balance transfer fee
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($59 p.a. thereafter)
Offers a 0% for 24 month balance transfer option, first year annual fee waiver and a competitive purchase rate.
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.
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($199 p.a. thereafter)
$49 first year annual fee & up to 75,000 bonus Altitude Pts when you meet T&C with Visa (issued by Westpac) & Amex (issued & serviced by Amex).
Virgin Money Low Rate Credit Card
11.99% p.a.
0% p.a. for 14 months
$49 p.a.
Offers a $49 annual fee, 10% cashback on purchases made in the first 3 months (capped at $100) and 0% p.a. for 14 months on balance transfers.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Bonus Points Offer
20.74% p.a.
0% p.a. for 18 months
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Earn up to 60,000 bonus points in the first 3 months and save with a $64 first year annual fee. Plus, a long-term balance transfer offer.

Compare up to 4 providers

Images: Shutterstock

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Amy Bradney-George

Amy is a senior writer at with more than 10 years experience covering credit cards, personal finance and various lifestyle topics. When she’s not sharing her knowledge on money matters, Amy spends her time as an actress.

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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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