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What to do if you find a lost credit card

If you stumble upon someone else's credit card, don't try to be a hero. Contact the issuer or just destroy the card so it can't be used


When you find a lost credit card, the actions you take could help or hurt. We reached out to experts to find out what you should (and shouldn’t) do if you find a credit card that isn’t yours.

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Finding a lost credit card isn’t that uncommon these days, whether you come across one in a parking lot or someone left theirs on the counter at your favorite retail store.

But there are things you can do to help the cardholder if you find their card. Likewise, some actions could make the situation more complicated or, worse, waste everyone’s time with no benefit at all.

If you stumble across a credit card that isn’t yours, here are some things you should do and some things you should absolutely avoid.

Report the card lost

Nishank Khanna, chief financial officer at Clarify Capital, says the first thing you should do is call the number on the back of the card and report it lost. Large banking institutions and card issuers have processes for these sorts of things, he says. Not only can a customer service representative place an internal freeze on the account, but they will be able to provide you with information on what to do with the card.

“Contacting the lender is almost always the best option because both the issuer and cardholder become aware the card is compromised and the bank can take steps to prevent fraud,” says Khanna.

Credit expert John Ulzheimer says you don’t need to take any substantial steps to protect the cardholder from hackers and thieves. For the most part, calling the card issuer to let them know the card is lost or destroying the card in your shredder is enough to make you a good Samaritan.

He points out that the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) limits a cardholder’s liability to no more than $50, and the credit card networks all have zero-liability policies. “Whatever you choose to do, the cardholder isn’t going to be saddled with any potential fraudulent charges,” he says.

Destroy the card

The issuing bank will probably tell you to throw the card away or shred it, but you can also consider taking this step from the start. Ulzheimer says he likes the idea of just running the card through a paper shredder and being done with it. This saves you the time required to call the issuing bank, and it also ensures the credit card won’t fall into the wrong hands.

“The card issuer will replace the card for free, so the cardholder isn’t out anything other than the time it takes to replace the card,” says Ulzheimer.

If you decide to destroy the credit card, but you don’t have a shredder, fraud expert Marc Trepanier of ACI Worldwide (a payment processing company) says to destroy all remaining pieces of the card so the account number, expiration date and CVV (the three numbers on the back of the card) are no longer legible.

“This will avoid any further potential fraud on digital or e-commerce websites,” says Trepanier.

What not to do if you find a lost credit card

Don’t just leave the card there

You may be tempted to just leave the credit card where you found it, but this isn’t the best idea if you want to be helpful. “Someone who is less honest than you may find it and attempt to use it, says Ulzheimer.

If you find a lost credit card and someone uses it for purchases online or payments at a register, the cardholder won’t be held financially liable. However, they will have to spend their time and effort disputing the charges and explaining the fraud, so doing the right thing could save them the hassle.

Don’t try to find the owner

Credit card fraud industry veteran Lisa Torelli-Sauer, editor at Sensible Digs, says you should never try to find the cardholder. While the effort and goodwill would surely be appreciated, the cardholder will be much better off if you call the customer service number to have the card blocked and destroy the card, she says.

There are many reasons for this. First, the card may have already been used fraudulently and then discarded. If that has happened, giving the card back to the cardholder could give them the mistaken impression that no fraud occurred.

Not only that, but someone may have already noticed the lost card and written the card information down instead of picking it up. Torelli-Sauer says this would give them the opportunity to make online purchases with the card without having it in their possession. At that point, giving the card back to the owner would give them a false sense of security and leave the card number open to online fraud in the future.

So yes, it’s possible you could find the cardholder’s phone number or social media accounts. But, should you? Absolutely not.

Don’t give the card to a cashier

Finally, Ulzheimer suggests fighting the urge to hand the card over to a store manager or a cashier. By the time you find it, give it to someone in charge and they reach out to the cardholder, they probably already know it’s gone, he says.

However, Ulzheimer says the exception is finding a credit card in a restaurant. In that case, it’s reasonable to expect the cardholder will figure out they used their card to pay for dinner and call to inquire about it shortly.

“In that case, it would be nice to turn the card in to the restaurant manager,” he says.

Bottom line

Finding a lost credit card gives you the opportunity to do something nice. However, the kindest steps you can take are also the easiest ones – call the number on the back of the card or destroy the credit card so no one can attempt to use it.

Credit cards come with valuable liability protection for cardholders, so you don’t have to worry about the cardholder being stuck repaying thousands in fraudulent purchases. By making sure the card is out of commission, you can save everyone some time and stress.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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