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9 ways to spot tricks scammers use to steal your credit card info and con you out of money

The magnetic stripe on your credit card is embedded with information that identifies you and your account. When you swipe your card through a payment terminal, it extracts information from your card and approves or denies the transaction based on available credit or funds. The money is then moved from your account to the merchants.

Unfortunately, a crook can use this information to steal money or charge things to your account. A card skimmer is one tool that’s been around for a very long time. These devices are installed at payment terminals to collect and steal your credit card information. They are often difficult to spot, but we have some tips that can help you avoid being ripped off. Tap or click here for our report on skimmers.

A thief does not need your credit card to be physically present. Threat actors can target you online without your knowledge. Sometimes you won’t be aware of it until you receive your credit card statement, and even then, the fraudulent charge could be lost among legitimate ones. Read on for tips to avoid surprise charges.

Dark pattern, grey area

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) cites a 2019 study that found dark patterns in 11% of 11,000 shopping websites. Dark pattern is a term that describes online tricks designed to leech funds from your credit card. “That’s a conservative estimate,” lead author Arunesh Mathur said.

Websites, online retailers, subscription services, social media influencers, political fundraisers and others employ dark patterns to bilk money from their users and customers.

RELATED: CAPTCHA tests are designed to authenticate human users, but scammers use this tech to target their victims. Tap or click here for tips on avoiding this trick.

A site can add an item to your online shopping cart without your consent. You could miss a tiny checkbox that will add to your fee when paying for a service. A button to opt out of certain charges could be obscured by color, size or placement.

The problem is that these unethical practices are not always illegal. In many cases, the trick is displayed in plain view, which is enough to appease the law. The text may be hard to read or interpret, but it’s there, and that’s what matters.

How to spot dark patterns

You can spot many dark patterns with some patience and practice. Watch out for the following:

  • Tricky language that is hard to understand at first. If you can’t understand it, it’s hiding something and you should move on.
  • Language that tries to make you feel bad for not accepting terms. One example you’ll see many times is “No thanks, I’d rather pay full price.” Ignore that nonsense and proceed with what you originally intended.
  • Are you trying to find the X button to close a pop-up? Is it so tiny that you can barely see it on your smartphone? That’s a nasty trick to get you to click on the window rather than close it.
  • You may be used to green signifying go and red signifying stop. Dark pattern practitioners use this to their advantage by swapping these colors. So an “Accept” button may be red or a “Decline” button may be green. Tap or click here for eight major scams to watch out for.
  • Countdown timers don’t need to be honest. They are there to rush you into a decision. Mathur’s study found that 40% of discount countdown timers did not actually expire as indicated.
  • Think about your child throwing a bag of candy in your shopping cart when you’re not looking. The same type of maneuver can happen online. A site or service can sneak things into your cart with no warning. Before checking out, check your cart for extras.
  • A social media platform or influencer may ask for your personal information, such as your phone number and email address, to join, subscribe, enter a contest or earn a discount. Don’t give away so much information. They will use it to spam you with ads or even sell your information to third parties. Tap or click here to read about a sweepstakes scam that targets your bank account.
  • When signing up for a free trial, keep track of how long it lasts. Oftentimes you will not be warned when a trial is expiring and that’s when they start to charge you.
  • When using an app that requests lots of personal information, such as a mental health aid, be careful what you hand over. This information can be shared with other companies or users.
  • You can report dark patterns that you find at this site:
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