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Why Are Americans' Stolen Credit Cards Worth Only $5?

Christine DiGangi

You'd think your name, birthdate, Social Security number and credit card data would be priceless. But according to a new report from Intel Security, U.S. credit card data is much less valuable than data found in the U.K., Canada, Australia or European Union. In fact, it's only worth a measly $30. (That drops to $5 if you're just after computer-generated credit card data.) What gives?

Raj Samani, who wrote the report as chief technology officer of Intel Security, offers a couple of reasons. First, the price of stolen data has declined significantly, while data breaches have flooded the market with stolen info. "I think a lot of it comes down to supply and demand," Samani says. "There are hundreds of millions of cards, and specifically U.S. cards, that have come onto the marketplace."

It's cheaper to purchase credit card data now than it was a few years ago because there are so many sellers and prices are competitive. Beyond the data breaches, the treasure trove of U.S. card data partly stems from our large population and cards' magnetic stripe technology, Samani says.

It can be more expensive to find data on chip-and-PIN cards, which are used around the world and particularly in Europe, but are just now becoming mainstream in the U.S. (The retailer shift to chip-and-swipe credit cards is a step toward the more secure chip-and-PIN system, though chip and PIN does a better job of preventing fraud resulting from a misplaced or stolen card.) Then again, card-not-present fraud is an issue in several countries, so the difference may only partly explain variations in card data pricing.

Prices for software-generated U.S. credit card numbers and security codes can even be sold for as little as $5 per card, according to the Intel Security report.

The stolen data economy is huge and easily accessible, Samani says, so don't be surprised if you fall victim to identity theft. Chances are you have, so be sure to check all your accounts for signs of fraud. You can also check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com to spot signs of identity theft.

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