If your credit card is lost or stolen, you could become the victim of identity theft and fraud, and your credit score could be severely damaged. Follow these tips to protect your personal information and ensure your card is always in your own hands.
“I’ve had it happen to me,” says Morgan Taylor, CMO for LetMeBank. “Let me tell you, logic doesn’t apply to your automatic responses. You feel attacked and in danger.”
It may turn out that you just left your card at home, but you don’t know that at first.
The best way to lower both your feelings of fear and your vulnerability to damage from a lost or stolen credit card is to have a good plan in place – before your card goes missing.
What can happen when my credit card is lost or stolen?
From the time your credit card is lost or stolen until you report it to your bank, anyone who finds it can use it to purchase goods and services, online or in person.
It’s true that your liability for unauthorized purchases is limited. But you still face the hassle of dealing with a lost or stolen card, and the stress of knowing your card may be in the wrong hands in the meantime.
In addition, there may be other possible negative effects from having a missing credit card.
For example, someone who finds or steals your card could use your information to commit identity theft. The coronavirus crisis has opened the door for a staggering amount of identity theft, according to Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, and it’s only getting worse.
In early June, the FBI warned the Senate that the number of fraud complaints for the first part of 2020 were almost the same as for all of 2019. It doesn’t take long for thieves to use stolen information, either.
According to the FTC, when credit card information was exposed online, it only took nine minutes for crooks to attempt to try to use the information to buy things. If your card is lost or stolen, a crook may decide to sell your information, rather than just try to buy things with it themselves.
Another way someone can use your card to commit identity theft is to use it as ID.
“A lot of places shouldn’t accept a credit card as ID, but they still do,” says Taylor. “This opens the doors to identity theft and all the inherent problems that come with identity theft. They could even apply for credit from other sources after collecting more data on you with your credit card.”
Reporting a missing credit card and having a new credit card number issued has no impact on your credit score. The new card is still the same account as before, even though the numbers have changed. Your length of credit and other credit information stays the same.
However, if thieves run up your credit card balances, even temporarily, your credit utilization rate could go up, causing your credit score to go down. If you miss payments – for example, if someone uses a credit card you don’t normally use and you don’t notice it right away – your credit score could take a hit.
If someone with your credit card information or actual credit card applies for new accounts in your name, even if they are unsuccessful, your credit score may be temporarily lowered as a result.
Am I responsible for charges on my card?
You are generally not responsible for unauthorized charges over $50 if you report the card within two days after you learn about the loss or theft, under federal law. You are also not responsible for any charges made after you report your card as missing. If thieves take your card number, but not your card, you are not responsible for unauthorized charges.
That doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about if you can’t find your credit card. If you don’t report the card as missing right away, you may still be liable for some or all charges. If you notify your bank more than two business days after you learn about the loss or theft, but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you, you may be liable for up to $500 in unauthorized charges.
Another way you could be liable for charges is if you lent someone your credit card and didn’t get it back. For example, if you told someone they could use your card to buy gas, and they used it to fly to Las Vegas for the weekend, you may have a hard time convincing the bank that the charges were unauthorized.
You can also have a problem if someone you know took your card. This happens more often than you would think. A friend or family member “borrows” someone’s card, and the wronged party has the difficult choice of potentially getting someone they know in trouble, and getting stuck with the bill.
What should I do when my card is missing?
As soon as you realize your credit card is missing, contact your credit card issuer by phone or online and report the card as lost or stolen.
“Check to see if your card issuer has an app for your phone,” says Leslie Tayne, debt attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group. “Some issuers allow you to disable your card in real time in the app, without waiting on hold for a support agent.”
If you’re not sure if the card is really missing, consider taking temporary measures first.
“Let’s say it’s been misplaced,” says Tayne. “Contact the bank and ask about the last charge. Assuming you recognize the last charge and there’s no other charges, give yourself a little time by putting a temporary hold on it.”
If the card doesn’t turn up, or if it was out of your control for even a short time, ask for a new card.
Besides reporting your missing card by phone or on an app, you should follow up with a letter or email. Include your name, account number, the date and time you noticed it missing and when you notified the bank that the card was missing.
If you have bills and subscriptions set up on your card, they won’t go through while your card is on hold. If you get a new card and account number, your bank may update the vendor’s information and let recurring charges go through – but don’t count on it. Look at your credit card statements from the last few months for automatic payments, and either put them on a different card or update the account number.
This is an excellent time to decide if you need all those services. If you choose to stop paying any recurring charges, be sure to cancel them. Otherwise, you can end up with a bill in collections.
You might also want to change your passwords after your credit card has been missing.
If you suspect someone is using your card or card information to open new accounts or make charges, you should report it at the government site IdentityTheft.gov.
How can you be better prepared for next time?
One thing you can do to prevent future lost cards is to avoid carrying too many of them with you in the first place.
Dvorkin says, “I have a bunch of cards, but I only carry two in my wallet. The cards you’re not using, lock them up somewhere.”
One way to avoid carrying some or all of your cards with you is to use an online wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Consider closing some accounts if you have too many – especially ones that charge annual fees. But beware that canceling a credit card account can hurt your credit score by reducing your overall available credit (and increasing your credit utilization ratio).
Don’t want to close your accounts? Some issuers, such as Discover, allow you to freeze and unfreeze your card as needed.
“It may be a good idea to freeze your card in the app until you are ready to make a purchase,” says Tayne. “That way, if your card is lost or stolen, it cannot be used.”
You should have a list of all your card names and financial institutions, account numbers and the customer service phone numbers. Keep a copy of the list at home in a safe place.
Taylor recommends you also carry your emergency credit card cancellation numbers with you at all times, in a separate place from your credit card.
“If a purse that contains your credit card is stolen, having your emergency contact number for the card also in that purse is going to do nobody any good,” she says.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to make sure no one has access to your credit card is to stay on top of all charges to your account.
Dvorkin has his credit card account set to send him alerts every time his card is used. If his card went missing, he might not notice it right away. But the minute someone tried to use it, he’d get an alert.
“Some apps send emails, some will call,” Dvorkin said. “I would sign up for every single security measure, and then possibly dial it back if it gets to be too much.”
You should also review your billing statement every month. Tayne holds on to her receipts and checks the receipts against every charge.
“Personal finance management is not meant to be on autopilot,” she says. “It’s not set it up, leave it and walk away. You wouldn’t send a plane into the sky without a pilot because it’s on autopilot. People have a tendency when they have credit issues and problems to not look. You have to push through and look anyway.”