Skip

What is the legality of cloning a credit card that I own?
August 13, 2012 11:16 AM   Subscribe

What is the legality of cloning a credit card that I own?

If I were to have the necessary equipment to produce a duplicate of my own credit card, would it be legal to do so?

I've always thought it would be cool to have a card with an unconventional design not offered by my issuer, but I'm not sure if trying to make one would run afoul of some law. I didn't find anything via some quick searching, but my legal search engine-fu is probably not up to the level of some Mefites. (Alternatively: what relevant legislation should I check out?)
posted by -1 to Law & Government (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wouldn't worry as much about "legislation" as your cardholder agreement with your bank. I'd bet that buried somewhere in there is a clause about tampering or reverse engineering that would get your account closed if they caught you. Otherwise, you'd just have to worry about someone thinking it's a fake and calling you in.
posted by Oktober at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also consider this, even you can't find anything to run afoul of in your cardholder agreement, you may have issues trying to use the card at merchants. I'm guessing McDonald's might not care so much but anywhere that has to deal with chargeback liability might be a little wary of taking payment from you with a card that doesn't look official.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The card member agreement doesn't contain anything precluding this as far as I can tell. I couldn't find any provisions about "reverse engineering" or "tampering", but since 1) nothing would be reverse-engineered (mag strip encoding is an open standard) 2) the original card would be unmodified I can't imagine how either provision would be relevant even if they did exist.

You do raise a good point about merchants choosing to reject unconventional-looking cards, but I wouldn't really be bothered about that too much. I'd probably just shrug and pay cash (or pull out the original card and use that.)
posted by -1 at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2012


This doesn't answer your exact question, but if all you want is an awesome picture on your card, Capital One allows you to use pretty much any photo (within reason) you want.
posted by natabat at 11:41 AM on August 13, 2012


I was actually thinking of more than just a different picture. I was thinking of a minimalist design: a solid color with the numbers and expiration date listed in an unobtrusive font in a slightly-desaturated shade of the main color. On the reverse, just the card type in small block capitals and the mag strip. No logos or anything else.

Basically, what Apple would come up with if they made credit cards.
posted by -1 at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2012


I can imagine that it would be a hassle if a police officer found it in your possession. They'd probably want to investigate whether the original was yours, whether you had any other cloned cards on you, etc. All of which might mean they'd want to arrest you. Which would be annoying, to say the least.
posted by ambrosen at 11:48 AM on August 13, 2012


Assuming these guys have done their due diligence, it's legal. (Their product does pretty much exactly what you're describing.)
posted by ook at 11:51 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Credit cards have various security features to "prove" authenticity, including holograms, various types of embossing or printing, CVV/2 code which has to be etched just so, ultraviolet inks, etc. In my experience these don't often come into play, but if the card looks unusual I am sure it will come in for a greater amount of scrutiny.

I'm pretty sure the card companies would like to discourage use of custom-made copies so I imagine at the very least if someone started making charges to your card you might have trouble getting those charges credited back to you if it was discovered you'd made a non-secure copy.

Basically, it sounds risky. I mean, there is a reason you are asking us, not your card issuer who would be much better able to answer.
posted by rocketpup at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2012


ook: Interesting link! I had not heard of their product.

I do note that they say they have biometric security on their card, which might be a factor in their due diligence, if any.
posted by rocketpup at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2012


The laws vary state to state. In some instances, the act of physical duplication falls under credit card forgery.

I have toured an actual credit card production facility. It's remarkably fascinating. The "raw materials" of credit card blanks with mag strips are very very well-guarded and audited at each shift. People are weighed entering and exiting the facility. Forgery is an expensive problem in the industry; it's unlikely that the issuers would look the other way at casual duplication for personal preference.
posted by judith at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2012


Basically, it sounds risky. I mean, there is a reason you are asking us, not your card issuer who would be much better able to answer.
I'm asking Metafilter because I figure that asking a random call center rep is probably a waste of time, and I care more about the legality than whether or not the issuer "frowns upon" it. Plus, if past experiences with customer service are any indication, I don't feel confident that I'd be able to explain this to them, let alone get an accurate answer.
Credit cards have various security features to "prove" authenticity, including holograms, various types of embossing or printing, CVV/2 code which has to be etched just so, ultraviolet inks, etc. In my experience these don't often come into play, but if the card looks unusual I am sure it will come in for a greater amount of scrutiny.
To be sure. In fact, my card has a holographic mag strip which I (obviously) would not be able to duplicate. I figure I'd carry the original with me and use that if issues arose.
The laws vary state to state. In some instances, the act of physical duplication falls under credit card forgery.
Ah. That's what I was looking for. I know it varies from state to state, but do you happen to have any links from which I can learn more?

Also, if that's the case, how does the above-linked Geode device not fall under that same category?
posted by -1 at 12:00 PM on August 13, 2012


The laws vary state to state. In some instances, the act of physical duplication falls under credit card forgery.
I pulled a random collection of state statutes and the ones I pulled require an intent to defraud. Can you identify a state that doesn't require fraudulent intent?

I guess that an overzealous prosecutor might assert that the act of creating your own credit card was a dry run for full tilt forgery, but I don't think it would fly. In Virginia, I think they would have to show you actually presented a card with someone else's data.
posted by Lame_username at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2012


Also, if that's the case, how does the above-linked Geode device not fall under that same category?

I work on the software side of payment processing...we're contacting our guy at Visa to get his take on the Geode. My guess is that iCache are working with a bank, which gets them access to the card networks and would allow them to make their own "branded" credit card. I'll post more when I hear back from Visa.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2012


I wonder if the use of the Visa/MC/whatever logo on the cloned card would support a trademark infringement action. Wouldn't there be a "likelihood of confusion" between the cloned card and authorized copies? So forgery and uttering issues aside, wouldn't the use of that cloned card in commerce trigger trademark dilution and passing-off issues? Because, the whole point would be to pass it off as actual Visa/MC card.

(Spitballing speculation, haven't had a trademark case for several years.)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:44 PM on August 13, 2012


I wonder if the use of the Visa/MC/whatever logo on the cloned card would support a trademark infringement action. Wouldn't there be a "likelihood of confusion" between the cloned card and authorized copies? So forgery and uttering issues aside, wouldn't the use of that cloned card in commerce trigger trademark dilution and passing-off issues? Because, the whole point would be to pass it off as actual Visa/MC card.
That's a fair point as well. I suppose the card type/logo could easily be omitted though, as the number itself is enough to identify what type of card it is.
My guess is that iCache are working with a bank, which gets them access to the card networks and would allow them to make their own "branded" credit card. I'll post more when I hear back from Visa.
The other possibility is that they're simply in violation of PCI. Square was for quite some time, and as much as PCI compliance is something that everyone's supposed to try for it wouldn't suprise me if a startup took the approach of "get big, then worry about it". (Pure speculation on that last part, obviously.) I'd love to know for sure how iCache does it, as it's an interesting product (albeit a useless one for my purposes since I don't have an iAnything...)
posted by -1 at 12:58 PM on August 13, 2012


Irrespective of how you use it, I'm pretty sure that possession of equipment capable of doing that would be a violation of the DMCA.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2012


I would strongly discourage you from doing this. People have already raised the issue about whether you might be committing a crime merely by owning the equipment or attempting to duplicate your card. I would personally be more worried about the collateral problems with having the means to duplicate a credit card - want to know who the first person of interest in any credit card scams will be if authorities ever find out you have this stuff? Perhaps my paranoia comes from defending stuff like this all day long.

Don't do it.

This is not legal advice and I am not your lawyer.
posted by Happydaz at 2:18 PM on August 13, 2012


I wouldn't take a credit card that looked like someone printed it themselves.
posted by cromagnon at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2012


Irrespective of how you use it, I'm pretty sure that possession of equipment capable of doing that would be a violation of the DMCA.
I don't believe that's correct. Magnetic strip readers/writers are absolutely legal -- the DMCA doesn't come in to play re: ownership. If owning equipment to read/write magnetic strips were illegal, pretty much every university student union would be in deep trouble. You might be able to use them to circumvent some form of content protection (although I can't imagine what...), just as you might use your CD burner to copy a copyrighted album -- but in neither case does that make ownership of the device illegal.
People have already raised the issue about whether you might be committing a crime merely by owning the equipment or attempting to duplicate your card. I would personally be more worried about the collateral problems with having the means to duplicate a credit card - want to know who the first person of interest in any credit card scams will be if authorities ever find out you have this stuff?
Owning the equipment would be 100% legal, at least in my state. Of this I am 100% sure.

The equipment necessary to produce a card, complete with magnetic strip (albeit without raised letters)? An inkjet or laserjet printer, some butterfly pouches, teslin blanks, and a laminating device (or an iron and steady hands.) All of which may be obtained at your local craft supply store.

Personally I wouldn't be concerned about owning any of the above, although I don't have any reason to purchase it in the first place (apart from if I decided to embark on this experiment).

I suppose you raise a good point in that people with a different viewpoint than mine might assume that the only possible reason to own stuff like that would be nefarious.

In the end, it's probably not worth it, but I would be interested to find out a concrete answer one way or the other. I suppose my best bet would be to ask an lawyer...
posted by -1 at 5:28 PM on August 13, 2012


***It doesn't matter whether it's legal or not, you're going to get arrested.***

The fact that you're having trouble determining the legality of doing this should tell you something: your average cashier/merchant isn't going to know whether it's legal or not.

If they assume it's illegal (a fair assumption given the lack of a hologram), they'll call the police. Even if you explain yourself, there's still a chance the police will assume you're an identity thief doing a test run, arrest you, get a search warrant for your home, confiscate your equipment and computer(s). And who knows how long that will take to clear up.

And while it's fair to assume you wouldn't ultimately face charges, you can't guarantee it either, especially if you're too stupid/broke to hire an attorney and compound your bad decisions by dealing with the police/prosector directly without counsel (this is *always* a very, very bad idea).

So your weakest link will be the cashier/merchant/waiter to whom you present the card. For example, people even get arrested for using $2 dollar bills because some cashiers are too stupid/young to know they're real.

Steve Wozniak purchases real, uncut, federal reserve sheets of $2 bills (which are legal tender) and then has someone perforate them and put them on a legal pad. (He deliberately confuses the story by saying he has a "printer" do the work - the insinuation being that the printer is printing the sheets, when all he is doing is mounting them on a pad). That's gotten him detained by police/secret service numerous times. And although the Secret Service has always cleared him, they did arrest/mirandize him once before it was finally cleared up.

And this is Steve Wozniak. And you are...? You will the guy who got arrested because his design sense got ahead of his common sense.

Please forgive the tone - it's late and harsh words are substituting in part for a lengthier explanation of why this strikes me as a really bad idea. Mind you, I really do like your motivation - I absolutely love elegant and simple design. But the lack of a hologram is going to be a big red flag that will get you into trouble sooner or later. Not worth the risk; find something similar/safer to apply your talents to.
posted by Davenhill at 1:56 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't actually own your credit card, i.e the object itself. It is a mechanism by which you can access credit under the terms of your agreement with your issuer.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:09 AM on August 14, 2012


You don't actually own your credit card, i.e the object itself. It is a mechanism by which you can access credit under the terms of your agreement with your issuer.
Source? I haven't seen anything to that effect in any material from my issuer, although I've certainly heard people make similar claims.

Davenhill, point taken, and no need to apologize for the harsh words. Wozniak's antics were actually something that came to mind when posting this.

Still, it does irk me some that people would flip out over something like this, especially when it seems to me that anybody who was going to steal a credit card would just use it online where there's no fear of people scrutinizing the card itself.

Sigh. You're right though; some people probably would react badly to it and would react in ways potentially very bad for me, and that makes it not worth the risk.

Time to mark this answered and go find some other thing to mess with... :)
posted by -1 at 8:05 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older I love apples (the fruit). For...   |  Please recommend the best plan... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post