Losing a credit card receipt that shows your full account number and expiration date can be nearly as dangerous as losing a credit card. Anyone with this information on a found or stolen receipt can potentially use your credit card information for a fraudulent shopping spree.
Without the physical plastic, crooks generally must resort to phone or online purchases to commit their fraud with illicitly gained credit card information. However, most reputable merchants require that the 3 or 4 digit security code (printed on the reverse or front of most credit cards) be included to complete a card-not-present transaction over the phone or on the internet. Since credit card receipts don't carry this information, the risk of fraud from their loss is somewhat diminished compared to losing the card itself.
Many merchants now only include the last four digits of a customer's credit card number on the receipt. A prime reason for this practice is the federal Fair and Accurate Transactions Act, which states that receipts for credit card and debit card transactions may not include more than the last five digits of the card number or expiration date.
However, there are exceptions. This section of the law does not apply to receipts for which the only method of recording a credit card or debit card number is by handwriting or by imprint or copy of the card. The act was signed into law in December 2003, and the merchant has three years to comply for machines in use prior to January 1, 2005. The merchant has one year to comply for machines in use after January 1, 2005.
Some states have their own strict laws to protect consumers. Since January 2004, all cash registers and point-of-sale terminals in California must print safeguarded receipts that list only the last five digits of a customer's credit card account number and no expiration date.
Regardless of the protection such laws provide, consumers should still take precautions for themselves. Credit card users must be on guard against thieves known as "dumpster diggers" who sift through garbage in search of financial information they could use to steal someone's identity and commit fraud, as well as criminals who prowl shopping malls looking for stray sales slips and who snatch receipts out of shopping bags.
Until all credit card receipts stop listing full account numbers and expiration dates, consumers should keep a close watch on their sales receipts -- keeping them in a safe place until their credit card bill arrives and making sure to shred or rip up receipts once they are ready to discard them. That same advice applies to bank and brokerage statements in addition to credit card bills, or anything that lists personal financial information. All such documents should be shredded or torn up before they get dumped in the trash.