What do I do if my credit card rewards are stolen?

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.

If thieves stole my credit card rewards, will the bank help?

While banks won’t make you pay for fraudulent purchases on your card, they won’t necessarily help if fraudsters steal your rewards. You should use a rewards tracker to receive alerts if any purchases have been made with your points.
Expert Q&A

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Dear Cashing In,
On three different occasions, thieves hacked my Barclaycard account and converted my 400,000 miles to gift cards. The last two times, I caught the thieves, and they didn’t get the cards. That saved Barclaycard a total of about $3,600. Police have one of the suspects in custody.

When I told Barclaycard about my efforts and asked if they would like to waive my annual fee, all they did was offer to downgrade me to a card with no annual fee. Ever run across something like this? – Kent

Dear Kent, 
I suppose it was only a matter of time until crafty thieves realized that reward points and miles can have significant value. I have never heard of any case like yours, but it is probably not surprising.

By now, we probably all have heard the admonition to check our credit card statements regularly to look for fraudulent charges. But your experience is a helpful reminder that the same is true of our rewards. People track their rewards in a variety of ways, from spreadsheets to financial software to a service such as AwardWallet.

AwardWallet takes your login information and compiles it in one centralized place, and you can set it up so that it notifies you of changes to your reward balances. That could provide a helpful alert system if somebody hacks into your account and steals your points.

Over the years, banks have become more sophisticated in their ability to track fraudulent activity on your credit card and alert you. And they have improved their efforts to thwart thieves from hacking into your account. But my guess is they have not invested similar resources in tracking and weeding out cases of thieves redeeming points improperly and illegally.

You’d like to think that Barclaycard would recognize your efforts to catch the point thief and at least waive your annual fee. But understand a couple things about how banks operate: The anti-fraud unit is a separate division from the retention unit.

If you have been hacked, that’s a matter for a bank’s anti-fraud unit. If you ask to have a fee waived, that’s a matter for a different division. And often, the agent you talk with – even if he or she wanted to help you – lacks the discretion to waive your annual fee.

It is true that your efforts probably saved Barclaycard a lot of money, because the bank likely would have reinstated your points if it could be proven they were taken illegally. But companies don’t always show their gratitude.

The situation is similar to a burglar breaking into your house and stealing thousands of dollars of jewelry. If the police go to a local pawnshop and recover the jewelry the next day, that’s great – but your insurance company doesn’t waive your premiums or send you a check to thank you for saving them money.

If you wanted to press the annual fee issue with Barclaycard, you could ask to talk to a supervisor, who might have more authority to waive the annual fee. You might also tell the agent that you are considering canceling the card – banks sometimes waive fees in that circumstance, or at least make you an offer to earn additional points.

See related: Crooks’ new target: Your reward points

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Updated: 08-15-2018