Lost or stolen credit card? Here’s what to do

You won’t be on the hook for some stranger’s shopping spree, but you’ll need to monitor your credit for identity theft.

Tanza Loudenback

By

Tanza Loudenback, CFP®

Tanza Loudenback, CFP®

CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ & Contributing Writer

Tanza Loudenback is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. At Policygenius, she contributes to the Easy Money newsletter.

Published October 28, 2021|4 min read

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Harrison Ford had luck on his side during a recent trip to Italy. A fellow tourist found the Indiana Jones actor's credit card in a Sicilian beach town and brought it to a police station, the Associated Press reported. A photo published by Italian media shows Ford smiling with local officials and reunited with his credit card.

Whether at home in the U.S. or abroad, most people who misplace a credit card — or worse, have it stolen — don’t experience such a Hollywood ending. In 2020, credit card fraud was the second most commonly reported type of identity theft, according to government data.

Thankfully, a longstanding U.S. law called the Fair Credit Billing Act ensures you won’t be on the hook for some stranger’s shopping spree. But you’ll also need to do some of your own credit monitoring to protect your identity going forward.

Here’s what to do if your credit card goes missing.

Report it immediately 

The first step, whether you’re at home or traveling, is to report the missing card. You can do this by either calling the network, such as Visa or Mastercard, or calling the issuer, such as Chase or Bank of America, directly. Domestic and international phone numbers are listed on the company’s support page and app.

It’s important to report a missing card quickly. The sooner the issuer is notified, the sooner they can deactivate your lost card, intercept potential fraud on your account, and mail you a new one. It could take longer to get a replacement card if you’re traveling abroad, though some banks offer expedited shipping and/or access to emergency cash if you need it.  

Your card issuer will likely ask for your name, address, and Social Security number to verify that it’s you. They’ll also review the last several transactions on your card to see if any fraud has already occurred. 

“If you happen to know who stole your card or saw the theft of the physical card, you should file a police report and give any identifying information you can about the suspects,” says Minesh Patel, a Texas-based personal injury attorney.

If you know where your card is but can’t pick it up right away — maybe you left it behind at a restaurant or store — consider temporarily locking the card through your online account so no purchases can be made in the meantime.

If a thief manages to make any purchases using your credit card before you call the issuer, the Fair Credit Billing Act states that you’re only liable for up to $50 in transactions. However, many banks go a step further and offer “zero liability” protection. That means none of the purchases made with your stolen card, whether in-person or online, are your responsibility. 

Each issuer has a different process for determining which transactions are fraud, but you won’t have to pay anything that’s under investigation. If your missing card is deactivated and you get a new one, be sure to update any automatic subscriptions or online bill pay with the new number.

You should also change your online bank login and password for extra protection, says Shazia Virji, general manager of credit services at Credit Sesame

Protect your credit

When you call your credit card issuer to report a missing card, only that card is canceled, not your entire account. Because your line of credit is still active, your credit score won’t be impacted.

There may have been time for a fraudster to access your personal information before the card was canceled, so be extra vigilant. In the following weeks, download your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure no new accounts or lines of credit were opened in your name.

If you see something wrong, file a dispute. “Once you detect and report the fraud, the fraudulent activity can be removed and will no longer impact your credit,” Virji says.

Even if everything looks OK, consider setting up a fraud alert on your credit report by calling one of the three credit bureaus (the one you call is responsible for telling the others). A fraud alert is free and will encourage lenders or creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity for new account openings for the next 12 months.

Prepare for travel

These instructions may sound straightforward, but the situation can feel scarier if you’re staying in a foreign country with a language barrier or spotty internet access.

Ease anxiety before you go by reading your credit card issuer’s policies on freezing an account, locking and unlocking credit cards, and getting a replacement card. Write down the country-specific or international phone number for customer service in case you don’t have Wi-Fi.

Lastly, consider notifying your issuer of upcoming travel so they know which types of transactions to expect and which might be a red flag.

Image: H. Armstrong Roberts / Getty