How Card Cloning Works: Understanding The Threat To Your Debit and Credit Cards

man inserting card at the ATM machine
  • Card cloning involves unauthorized copying and use of someone else’s credit card information. 
  • Card cloning is also called skimming and is closely related to phishing. 
  • You can protect yourself from card cloning by monitoring your accounts, having two-factor authentication, and using only bank ATMs.
  • EMV chips and contactless cards are more difficult to clone than cards with magnetic stripes. 
  • Call your bank to cancel your cards ASAP if you ever fall prey to card cloning.

Card cloning is a serious threat affecting thousands, if not millions, of people yearly. While using their credit or debit cards to make a purchase, these people unknowingly fall prey to scammers and thieves who illegally obtain and use their information for various reasons. More often than not, you do not even know that you have fallen prey to card cloning until after it happens.

But what is card cloning exactly, and how do thieves clone card information? We will discuss this and much more in today’s detailed guide on card cloning.

What is Debit or Credit Card Cloning?

Debit or credit card cloning is the process of creating clone cards that contain the same information as the actual card. The difference is the clone card information is obtained illegally.

You can also find this process under the name skimming, while phishing is when a person falsely impersonates a legitimate institution to obtain someone’s personal and bank information.

While phishing involves the cardholder actually sharing their information with the scammer, the same cannot be said about cloning or skimming. With the latter, people do not know that their card or bank account has been compromised until they see someone using the account or money. That is why cloning is so dangerous, and people must always be alert to avoid it.

How Does Card Cloning Work?

Cloning a credit card or debit card used to be a lot easier than it is nowadays. But even with all the new security measures and payment methods invented, thieves still find ways to clone cards. In short, to clone a credit card or debit card, a skimmer would need to:

  • Install an electric scanner next to a POS system and run the card through both.
  • Replace the regular POS system with a cloning terminal at retail and other stores.
  • Replace the regular ATM with a cloning ATM.
  • Replace the actual keyboard on an ATM with a false one to obtain card PINs.
  • Carry a contactless POS system and copy people’s card information that way.

There is no shortage of options for card cloning. It essentially comes down to this – you pay with your card thinking you are only making a single transaction, but the thieves copy your information. Then they either override the information on your old card or create a new one based on the obtained information.

The Risks and Consequences of Card Cloning

Having your debit or credit card cloned is not something to take lightly. There are severe risks to your information, finances, and safety when someone uses credit card clones with your information. They can make illegal purchases or share your information with criminals working on the underground market. If any of these things happen to you, you will wish that the thieves used your information just to steal your money.

Then again, robberies of this kind are not that problematic as banks usually compensate the majority of the funds back to you. You can only lose around $50 if you fall prey to card cloning. However, the consequences are dire if your information leaks to the wrong people. So, you must be very careful to protect yourself at all costs, even if it means swapping your cards for cold hard cash.

How Card Cloning Happens

We briefly went over how thieves can clone credit cards, but you should be aware of how the cloning process happens. This will help you know what to be on the lookout for.

Skimming Devices and Techniques

Sometimes, thieves get employees at a specific location to swap the POS system with a skimming device or install one right next to the actual POS. This way, people will not notice that their card is quickly run through two devices. Thieves often do this with ATMs, replacing either a part or the entirety of the ATM with a skimming device.

Malware and Data Breaches

Scammers occasionally use entire malware systems to impersonate security systems for POS or ATM devices. Either that or a data breach will get the thieves their needed information, which can be obtained when a person tries to make a transaction at a physical location or online.

Social Engineering and Phishing Scams

As mentioned, thieves can pose as bank workers or legitimate institutions to obtain people’s bank information. We recommend you never give information to anyone outside an actual bank or store. Always check the person’s credentials before sharing your bank information with them.

ATM and Point-of-Sale (POS) Terminal Tampering

Modern thieves have invented ways to reprogram ATMs or POS terminals and get people to share their information that way. They may change the keyboards on ATMs so that people will not notice that they are using a fake ATM. Other times, they create entire POS terminals that show the bank’s name but are bulkier than the actual terminals.

Signs of Card Cloning

There are a few ways to know if someone has obtained your information and created cloned cards based on your original cards. Below you’ll find the tell-tale signs of card cloning.

Unauthorized Transactions on Your Account

Check for transactions at places you have never visited or purchases of things you have never bought. If they show up on your bank or card account, it is safe to say someone is using a cloned credit card with your bank information.

Duplicate Cards or Charges You Didn’t Make

Notice a charge you can’t remember making and you are sure no one has used your card without your knowledge? It might just be that your card has been cloned. If you find a duplicate card or get information that a duplicate card has been issued in your name, it is time to contact your bank.

Strange or Unfamiliar Charges or Withdrawals

cash withdrawal

Suppose you notice a large sum of money is missing from your account. Or let’s say your card statements include chargers or withdrawals at ATMs unknown to you. In that case, consider the possibility of someone cloning credit card information and using it instead of you to make the charges or withdrawals.

Notifications From Your Bank or Credit Card Company

Receiving a two-factor authentication request or a notification saying there has been a withdrawal or charge on your card should raise the alarm. This is an indication that someone is using your card without your knowledge.

Preventing Card Cloning

No one wants to have their credit card cloned, that’s for sure. But if you want to prevent card cloning from happening to you, there are a few things you must remember to do.

Protecting Your Physical Cards

Your physical cards are not to be exposed in public, especially not in front of cameras or people who you do not know. Also, they should be stored away in a wallet, purse, or backpack so thieves with RFID terminals cannot read the information as they walk next to you.

Safeguarding Your Card Information

Always be mindful about where and to whom you tell your card information. To avoid falling prey to skimming, you should not use actual card information on unsecured networks or dangerous platforms. To avoid phishing, you should never share your card information with anyone except authorized personnel working at physical bank locations.

Monitoring Your Accounts and Statements

Check your accounts and credit card statements often, if not once per day. It is vital to monitor account activity after making a purchase or transaction at a place you have never done so before. If your statements change drastically, you might have been tricked by skimmers.

Additional Security Measures

The three above-mentioned security measures can help you reduce your chances of falling prey to card cloning. We also recommend using a few additional security measures to feel even safer.

Chip-Enabled Cards and Contactless Payments

contactless payment

Instead of using the old magnetic stripe cards that are easy to clone, you should switch to chip-enabled cards or contactless payments. The new EMV chips are practically impossible to clone, whereas contactless payments further complicate the cloning process for thieves. Switching to one of these card options is better than sticking to magnetic stripe cards with no encoding protection.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for Online Transactions

Before making online transactions, it is best to enable two-factor authentication for your card. That way, you will be required to enter a PIN code sent to your email or phone number or even use a fingerprint to confirm a transaction.

This security measure presents an obstacle for those who made credit card clones from your card. They will not be able to complete the transaction without the needed PIN or fingerprint verification.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Online Shopping

paypal app

Some banks offer virtual credit card numbers that mask the actual credit card number to complete a transaction. If your bank does not offer such virtual numbers, and you don’t want your credit card cloned, use an e-wallet such as PayPal, Skrill, Venmo, etc.

Card Freezing or Locking Features

Enable a card freezing or locking feature to protect your funds from card cloning rascals who try to withdraw or use the money for personal gain. Once you see suspicious card activity, activate this feature to prevent anyone from using the funds through a credit card. You can call or visit your card provider or bank as soon as possible and have them instruct you on what to do next.

What to Do if You Are A Victim of Card Cloning

If you ever become a victim of skimmers and have your credit card cloned, you must immediately contact your bank or card provider and have them freeze the account. They will cancel the existing cards, change your account information, and issue a new card. Be careful with your new card or bank account as those seem to be the target or skimmers as well.

Educating Others and Spreading Awareness

It is essential that you share all your knowledge about card cloning with others as a way to help them stay protected. Below you’ll find information on how you can do that.

Share Information With Friends and Family

Share information with your loved ones and help them set all needed security measures. At the same time, tell them how to recognize fake POS and ATM terminals to avoid cloning. It would be helpful if you explain phishing and advise them to never share bank information with anyone except those working at your bank.

Stay Updated on the Latest Card Cloning Techniques

It is a good idea to stay informed on cloning techniques. Thieves never stop exploring their options, so be well aware that they are ready to go to lengths to clone a credit card. You must keep up to avoid falling prey to them.

Promote Safe Practices and Security Awareness

Finally, ensure people close by know all about card safety. This includes knowing how to use the given security measures and being aware of the importance of staying alert at all times. Cloned cards are a nightmare to deal with, so it is best to avoid them than deal with them after the fact.


Are clone cards illegal?

Yes, a clone card is illegal, and so is the process of making cloned cards. However, most terminals and platforms cannot distinguish between cloned and real cards, allowing thieves to make transactions using the cards.

Can ATMs detect cloned cards?

Most ATMs cannot detect cloned cards, so you must be extra quick to freeze or cancel them, making it impossible for skimmers to misuse them.

Can RFID cards be cloned?

Even though it is very hard for RFID cards to be cloned, it is not impossible. Skimmers develop various cloning techniques to obtain information. This includes fake POS terminals, ATMs or even terminals that can collect information if they come in close contact with your card and do not touch it.

How can someone use my credit card without having it?

While people might not be able to use your physical credit card without having it, they can use your credit card information or even create credit card clones and use them instead.

Can a chip and PIN card be cloned?

The EMV chip included on most modern cards cannot be cloned, but obtaining the information from the card is possible. Still, this is quite difficult to accomplish, while it is impossible to do for someone who does not have your card PIN.

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