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While there may only be four major credit card companies in the world, there are 25 different issuers in Canada alone. That’s already a lot for anyone to keep track of, and it doesn’t make spotting a fake credit card any easier. Credit card fraud impacts millions of people annually, with an estimated $28 billion in global losses in 2020.

If you are a small business, a fake credit card can wreak havoc. So, how can you spot a fake credit card in Canada and prevent credit card fraud?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Mastercard, Visa and American Express have exclusive features on their cards that fakes don’t have, including 3D (not 2D) holograms
  • Mismatched, irregularly spaced, crooked account numbers
  • Damaged or chipped magnetic strips
  • Suspicious behaviours of the cardholder at checkout.
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How are fake credit cards made?

An increasing number of scammers make fake credit cards using credit card details they obtain through various methods. These include:

  • Card skimming: The most popular way of stealing credit card details. It involves scammers attaching a device to automated teller machines (ATMs) or point-of-sale (POS) systems that records your card details
  • Phishing emails/fake websites: A phishing email that directs you to a fake website, where you enter your credit card details to the scammer unknowingly
  • Stolen cards: Scammers get your credit card information through a physical copy of a stolen card
  • Photos/photocopies: People can gain access to copies or photos of your credit card information.

Once the fraudster has your credit card details, they just need to print the card, add embossing and magnetize it. And while this may be a complicated process for the average person, credit card fraudsters are experts at making fake cards near indistinguishable from the real thing.

Luckily, there are some Canadian credit cards that offer additional security features to protect users from fraud, but it’s still important for people to be able to spot fakes. 

What features do all credit cards contain?

While there are features that set the different credit card companies apart, there are some pieces of information that should be on every single credit card, regardless of company or issuer. These are the first things to look for when determining if a credit card is real or fake.

If it’s missing one of the following features, then it’s likely a counterfeit.

  • Cardholder name: Most of the time, the cardholder’s name is printed on the front of the card, underneath the account number. If not on the front, the cardholder’s name should be printed clearly somewhere on the card
  • Account number: Every credit card will have an account number. These are usually the most significant numbers on the card and may be imprinted or embossed onto the card. The number length will depend on the card
  • Signature pane: There should be a signature panel on the back of every credit card. This panel must be signed in order for the card to be valid
  • Magnetic strip: All credit cards will have a magnetic strip. Even though many credit cards now use the tap feature for payments, they will still have a magnetic stripe as a backup to swipe the card at a terminal. Watch out for strips that are heavily damaged or scratched, as fraudsters often do this on purpose
  • Expiration date: An expiration date is on every credit card, which signifies when the card is valid. Some cards also have issue dates
  • Microchip: Every credit card should have a microchip, which is a metal square, about the size of a thumbnail, located on the front of the card
  • CVC/CVV number: A card verification code, or card verification value, is on every credit card. Most times, it’s printed next to the signature panel on the back of the credit card. The number is either 3 or 4 digits in length and is used to authenticate online transactions. For AMEX, the number is usually just above the logo.

Visa credit card exclusive features

Now let’s look at some features you can look out for on Canadian Visa credit cards.

  • Visa logo: The first thing you will notice when you look at a Visa credit card is the Visa logo. It is typically on the front bottom corner and can appear either in a white box or with no background, in Visa’s signature font
  • Accurate account number format: All Visa account numbers should contain 16 digits, beginning with a 4
  • Striped signature panel: Almost all Visa cards will have a light blue and yellow striped signature panel, a feature often missed by fraudsters. If you see one with a white signature panel, it could be a fake
  • Dove hologram:The classic Visa identifier is a 3D dove hologram. It is metallic and will either be in a metallic box or on its own. When you move the card in the light, it should appear that the dove is moving.

Mastercard credit card exclusive features

Here are the exclusive features to check for on all Canadian Mastercard credit cards:

  • Mastercard logo: It changed a few years ago. Now it is red and yellow overlapping circles, with orange in the middle. The logo may or may not have an overlay of the word Mastercard, depending on the age of the card. The logo is usually on the front of the card
  • Accurate account number format: Mastercard account numbers are 16 digits, appearing in groups of 4. All Mastercard numbers start with the number 6. Also, most Mastercards will have the first 4 digits of the account number printed underneath the embossed version of the numbers
  • Mastercard hologram: The 3D Mastercard hologram will appear as overlapping world maps in an oval shape. When you move the card, the hologram should appear to change colours.

American Express credit card exclusive features

American Express credit cards also have several unique features:

  • American Express logo: The American Express logo can appear in multiple different forms, making it harder to identify fakes. It can either be a blue square with “American Express” printed inside, or it may simply say “AMEX.” Alternatively, you might see a centurion image in the middle of the front of the card
  • Accurate account number format: American Express account numbers are 15 digits in length, beginning with either a 34 or 37. Different from Visa and Mastercard, the numbers are not spaced out in groups of 4. They are spaced in a group of 4, 6, and 5 digits.
  • Signature pane: American Express credit cards also have the account number printed on the back of the card above the signature panel.
  • AMEX hologram: Some American Express credit cards will have a hologram of the centurion on the card’s magnetic stripe.

Extra tips to spot a fake credit card in Canada

Beyond these general credit card features, here are some other signs that may help you identify if a credit card is fake:

  • Crooked numbers, digits of varying sizes or uneven gaps between numbers
  • 2-D hologram instead of 3-D
  • Doesn’t have a CVV or CVC code
  • Damaged or missing chip or magnetic strip
  • Name on the receipt doesn’t match the name on the card
  • Last four card digits on the receipt don’t match the digits on the card
  • Odd customer behaviour (anxious, overly friendly, not making eye contact, etc.).

How to spot a fake credit card in Canada

Using these tips, you’ll be in the best position to spot a fake credit card in Canada and prevent credit card fraud from taking place at your workplace or business. In-store transactions often occur quickly, with cashiers and business owners not stopping to check credit cards. But a little training goes a long way in ensuring that fake credit cards are easily recognized.

Frequently asked questions about fake credit cards

Can I use a fake credit card to buy things?

Making purchases using a fake credit card is illegal and considered fraud and theft. If the credit card number in question is already flagged as stolen, you will be reported when trying to use the card. People do find ways to use fake credit cards to buy things, but the odds are that it will not work, especially if making an online purchase.

Do fake credit cards work?

It depends. Fake credit cards usually don’t work online because the user requires extra authentication. If the fake credit card is used at an in-person retailer, a cashier will likely catch the fake credit card, which if prosecuted, could result in up to 30 years imprisonment.

Is it illegal to use fake credit card numbers online?

Yes. Using fake credit card numbers online is fraud and theft. Most online purchases made with a fake credit card don’t go through, as the purchases need extra verification, which the fraudster likely won’t be able to complete, such as two-factor authenticiation.

How do fraudsters get a fake credit card number?

It may surprise you, but it’s actually relatively easy to obtain a fake credit card number using an online fake credit card number generator. Obtaining a fake credit card number using this method isn’t illegal, but it is illegal to use the card. So, how do fraudsters get away with it? These fake credit card numbers are apparently to be used for site testing, such as free trials, which require you to enter your credit card number to sign up. Using a fake card for site testing is also illegal.


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