If your credit card is lost or stolen, you could become the victim of identity theft and fraud, and your credit score could be damaged. Act fast and follow these tips to reduce your risk and protect your personal information.
If you’ve ever looked in your wallet for your credit card and didn’t find it, you remember the feeling. “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.”
The best way to reduce your vulnerability to damage from a lost or stolen credit card is to have a good plan in place – before your card goes missing.
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 your liability for unauthorized purchases is limited, but there are 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 pandemic 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 June 2020, the FBI warned the Senate that the number of fraud complaints for the first part of the year were almost the same as for all of 2019.
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.”
Here’s what to do if you lose your card.
Put a lock on your account
If you’re away from home when you notice your card missing, or unable to search for it immediately, play it safe and put a temporary freeze on your account. Freezing or locking your card account is easy to do and can be easily reversed if the card turns up.
“Check to see if your card issuer has an app for your phone,” says Leslie Tayne, debt attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group. “Major issuers allow you to disable your card in real time in the app, without waiting on hold for a support agent.”
Discover was the first to introduce this capability when they launched “Freeze it” in 2015. Freeze it is a feature that can be accessed through the Discover app or website and lets you instantly lock your account to prevent the fraudulent use of your card.
Other card issuers followed suit and now every major issuer has an app to lock your credit card account. Locate yours and be ready to use it.
You can also call the card issuer and ask them to check. “Contact the bank and ask about the last charge,” says Tayne. “Assuming you recognize the last charge and there’s no other charges, give yourself a little time by putting a temporary hold on it.”
Don’t wait too long to report your card lost
If you’ve searched thoroughly and can’t find your card, contact the issuer and report it lost. Don’t wait around for it to turn up.
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 thief may decide to sell your information, rather than just try to buy things with it themselves.
You are generally not responsible for unauthorized charges over $50, 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.
Follow up with a letter or email
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.
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.
Put your recurring charges on a different card
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.
Change your passwords and report suspected identity theft
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. You can also set up fraud alerts.
Wait for your card to be mailed
When you call to report a loss, the issuer will issue a new card with a new account number. Receiving a replacement card can take as long as one week but standard mail delivery times can vary.
For example, Wells Fargo and Capital One cards can take up to six or seven days to arrive via standard delivery. American Express says on its website that you can expect a new card within a few days or even the next day, depending on the shipping method. A replacement Chase card will arrive within three to five business days, according to the issuer’s website.
Put a plan in place to avoid losing your card again
One thing you can do to prevent future lost cards is to avoid carrying too many of them with you in the first place. “I have a bunch of cards, but I only carry two in my wallet,” Dvorkin says. “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. 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,” Tayne says.
Keep an eye on your account
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. People have a tendency when they have credit issues and problems to not look. You have to push through and look anyway.”
We all misplace a credit card now and then, but if it happens to you, don’t wait for the card to turn up. Log onto your account and freeze it. Once you’re sure the card is lost, report it to the issuer as soon as possible, by phone or online, then follow up in writing. Check your account activity on a regular basis to make sure there’s no suspicious activity and set up alerts if you can.