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How Merchants Can Identify Fake Credit Cards

July 24, 2017

How Merchants Can Identify Fake Credit Cards

July 24, 2017

When credit card data is stolen, it is often used to create fake credit cards. This data is originally stolen from POSs and ATMs, and then sold online to criminals. These criminals can choose to purchase a local credit card number, paying for it by prepaid gift card, bitcoin, or wire transfer. Then, they can print the numbers onto fake credit cards.

These fake credit cards often don’t last for long. As soon as the bank is alerted to suspicious activities, the card account is frozen. However, in these hours, or days, before the bank freezes the account, criminals can use the card to make multiple purchases in store, or through online fraud. Frequently, criminals will choose to buy gift cards that can be redeemed for cash. When one account is frozen, the criminal can simply buy another stolen card number online.

One of the biggest challenges of online payments is fraud. Fraud, such as the use of fake credit cards, costs credit card companies and retailers large amounts of money. As a merchant, you should know how to identify a fake credit card, so that you can protect yourself from fraud. With this knowledge, you will be able to check credit cards while you are awaiting a payment authorization, identifying a suspicious card and avoiding the repercussions of a fraudulent payment.

Every credit card has a set of security features. If these features appear to be tampered with, or there are features that are missing completely, it’s possible the card is counterfeit. Here are the security features you should look out for to verify card authenticity.

General features

  • Cardholder name – Every credit card should have the cardholder name on the front. In most cases, the name is embossed.
  • Account number– On the front of each card, the account number should be clearly embossed and evenly spaced.
  • Magnetic stripe – The back of the card has a magnetic stripe that contains account information. This should be undamaged.
  • Signature field – The back of each card should have a signature field, and this should always be signed. Check that the signature matches the signature collected from the customer.

Here are some features that are particular to the most popular credit card brands:


  • Overlapping globe hologram – Every MasterCard should have a 3D image with overlapping globes (the MasterCard logo). The hologram should appear to move and change colors when rotating the card.
  • Account number format – MasterCard numbers begin with a “5” and have a length of 16 digits. It should extend over the hologram. The first four digits of the card number should be printed underneath the embossed number as well.
  • Logo – A MasterCard has a color MasterCard brand logo on the front of the card.
  • Microchip – Many MasterCards have an EMV microchip above the account number.
  • Signature field format – The words MasterCard should be repeated in the background of the field. The signature field should also have a three digit CVC 2 number printed on it.


  • Hologram – The Visa hologram is of a dove, and may be anywhere on either side of the card. When the card is moved, the dove should appear to move.
  • Account number format – Visa numbers begin with the number ‘4” and have a length of 16 digits.
  • Logo – The Visa logo should be displayed in one of the corners of the front of the card, in a white box.
  • Microchip – Some Visa cards have an EMV chip above the account number.
  • Signature field format – On the back of the card, this field should have the word Visa repeated in the background. When scratched, the field reads ‘void’. There will also be a three digit CVV 2 number in the field. 

American Express

  • Centurion image – Most cards have this image in the center of the card.
  • Account number format – American Express card numbers are grouped differently from MasterCard and Visa cards. While those cards are spaced in groups of four digits, the American Express card is spaced in four, six, and then five digits. The number is only 15 digits long and begins with a “34” or “37”.
  • Holographic magnetic stripe – A Centurion image hologram is featured on some but not all American Express card magnetic stripes.
  • Signature field format – This usually contains the full card number, which should match the one embossed on the front. The four-digit CID security number is to the right of the signature field.


  • Logo – The ‘Discover Network’ logo will appear on the front and back of the card.
  • UV Image – Under UV light, the words “Discover Network” should appear on the front of the card.
  • Account number format – Discover account numbers are 16 digits long, beginning with a “6”.
  • Holographic magnetic stripe – The magnetic stripe may be holographic. If it is holographic, there will also be a hologram of a globe and an arrow on the front of the card.
  • Signature field format – The words “Discover Network” should appear repeatedly in the background of the signature panel. The last four digits of the card number should also be printed in the panel, and a three-digit CID should be to the right of it.

These tips will allow you to identify fake credit cards by sight. There are additional steps to take when dealing with online payments, as you can’t physically check if a credit card is genuine.

You can verify that a credit card number is real by using the Luhn Formula, as follows:

  1. Double each odd digit of the card number.
  2. If any resulting sums are greater than 9, add the digits together e.g. 12 = 1+2.
  3. Add up all the resulting digits from step 2, with all digits from step 1 that were under 9, and the even numbers from the original card number.
  4. If the total ends in a 0, the number is valid.

However, a stolen number would still come up as valid, according to the Luhn formula. This is why it’s important to work with a PCI DSS certified PSP, such as Direct Pay Online, so you can process secure online payments without fear of fraud.

Now that you know the signs of a fake credit card or credit card number, you can prevent fraudulent transactions from taking place and protect your business from fraud, both in-store and online.

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