The digital switches give cardholders greater control over their accounts and can help reduce card fraud.
Many of the largest card issuers and financial institutions have – or plan to add – digital “on/off switches” that allow you to remotely turn off your credit or debit card until you find it.
“The on/off feature puts our customers in control,” says Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Seitz.
If your card is missing, but you don’t think it’s gone for good, activating a digital on/off switch saves you the hassle of calling your issuer, reporting that your card has been lost, and then waiting for a new card to be issued. You activate the switch by logging in to the issuer’s website or its mobile app.
Wells Fargo started putting the on/off switch on all its debit cards in March 2017, and it aims to add the on/off switch to all its credit cards later in 2018. Between March and December 2017, the on-off switch on Wells Fargo’s debit cards had been used about 3 million times, Seitz says.
Barclays also plans to add an on/off switch on all its credit cards in 2018.
Major card issuers with on/off switches on cards
|American Express: American Express offers a freeze feature on all consumer and business cards in the U.S.|
|Bank of America: Bank of America has an on/off switch on all debit cards.|
|Barclays: An on/off switch is expected to be introduced on credit cards later in 2018.|
|Capital One: Card Lock is available on all Capital One credit cards.|
|Citi: Citi Quick Lock is on all debit and credit cards.|
|Discover: The Freeze it feature is on all credit cards.|
USAA: All credit and debit cards have on/off switches.
|Wells Fargo: All debit cards now; expected to be introduced on credit cards later in 2018.|
Note: Chase and U.S. Bank don’t offer on/off switches on their credit or debit cards.
How on/off card switches work
Discover was the first major credit card issuer to offer an on/off switch on all its credit cards, says Laks Vasudevan, Discover’s vice president of products and innovation. Discover’s “Freeze it” feature was introduced in 2015 in response to customer concerns.
“In today’s world, we know it’s not a matter of if, but when, fraud can occur,” Vasudevan says.
When “Freeze it” is activated and a fraudster tries to use your card, the transaction will be declined and you’ll be notified of the attempt to use the card, Vasudevan says.
Turning off your Discover card, though, doesn’t stop recurring charges, returns, payments and reward redemptions.
How do you turn your card off and then on again? Cardholders can freeze and unfreeze their cards anytime via Discover’s mobile app or website or by calling Discover. Just look for the Freeze Account screen.
What’s the difference between freezing a Discover card and temporarily deactivating it? A temporary deactivation prevents in-store purchases at point-of-sale terminals, but your account number can still be used for online and phone purchases.
When a card is turned off or frozen, your account number can’t be used to make purchases in-store, online or by phone. Your account also can’t be used for cash advances or balance transfers.
Using on/off card switches to thwart fraud
If a cardholder spots a fraudulent transaction on his or her credit card statement, receives notice of a purchase they don’t recognize or gets a text or email alert about fraud, that cardholder can immediately lock the card to block more fraudulent transactions.
That’s how Capital One’s Card Lock on/off switch works, spokeswoman Meredith Reilly says.
Some card tools go beyond on/off switches to give cardholders greater control over the use of their account number.
“Do you lock your house before you go to bed? You can lock your card at night, too,” to ensure no one can use the card during that time, says John Buzzard, a fraud specialist for Co-Op.
The CardNav app is being used at hundreds of credit unions across the country, Buzzard says. A credit union can decide whether to make the app available on its credit or debit cards, or both.
The app also can be used to limit the geographic areas where the card can be used, Buzzard says. For example, if you live in New York, you could set your card so it won’t authorize charges made in California.
You also might limit the amount that can be charged to your card, such as $50 or $100, or you can prohibit transactions at certain kind of merchants, such as jewelry stores or hotels.
Charges that don’t match your settings will automatically be declined, until you change the settings.
Card fraud and identity theft set records
Having control of your card accounts via an on/off switch can be particularly important as online card fraud and identity theft soars.
Fraudulent transactions on credit cards topped $8 billion in 2017, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s “2018 Identity Fraud Report.”
As cards with EMV chips have reduced fraud at payment terminals, card fraud has shifted online to card-not-present transactions. Javelin found that online card fraud is now 81 percent more likely than fraudulent in-person transactions.
Identity fraud, meanwhile, hit a record 16.7 million victims in 2017, up from 15.4 million victims the previous year. In 2017, victims lost close to $17 billion to fraudsters, according to Javelin.
Criminals can use stolen credit and debit card numbers to run up charges to your account, or as building blocks to commit identity theft and fraud.
What you can do to reduce your card fraud risk
Even if you have a credit or debit card with an off-on switch, you can’t think, “Now I’m perfectly safe,” says Paige Hanson, chief of identity education at LifeLock.
“Often fraud happens without you knowing someone has access to your card number,” says Kimberly Sutherland, senior director of fraud and identity management for LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
To spot fraud early:
- Check your credit card and debit card statements regularly to make sure there are no fraudulent transactions.
- You also should check your credit report to make sure your credit hasn’t taken a nose-dive from fraudulent charges or accounts. You can one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. And many credit card issuers provide free credit scores in cardholders’ online accounts.
A debit card can be particularly vulnerable, Hanson says, because fraudsters “could potentially wipe out your entire bank balance.”
With credit cards, your liability is capped at $50, although often your credit card issuer offers a zero liability policy and won’t hold you accountable for fraudulent charges.
“Empowering customers to be part of the fraud prevention strategy is a very positive step toward fraud prevention,” Sutherland says. “An on-off switch is only one component of your fraud prevention strategy.”
See related: Card fraud shifts online, How to spot gas pump and ATM skimmers, Identity theft in 2020: What you need to know about common techniques