Keep calm and follow these steps.
Whether you’ve physically lost your credit card or noticed suspicious activity in your statements, you’ll want to act quickly to remedy the situation. Here’s exactly what to do in each scenario to get your money back and prevent further problems.
What to Do If You Lose Your Credit Card
First off, don’t panic—losing your card doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been stolen. “Start by putting a freeze on your credit card,” says Sara Rathner, a credit card expert with Nerdwallet. “That means no new charges can be added to your card, but it can still make recurring charges.”
In other words, your Netflix subscription won’t be interrupted if you’re waiting for your card to turn up between the couch cushions at home, or in the wristlet you took to a restaurant last night. Once your credit card’s been found, you can have the freeze removed.
However, if it’s been a couple of days and you still haven’t found the card, proceed as if the card has been stolen.
What to Do If Your Credit Card Has Been Stolen
If your credit card is physically missing, or if you’ve noticed suspicious activity, cancel your card and report the charges to your bank immediately. In some cases, you’ll hear about the activity directly from your bank, and you can start the process right then. The good news is, credit card companies are usually quick to reimburse you for fraudulent charges, and Rathner reassures you should get the money credited back to your account within days of reporting it.
And if you’ve sent away for a new card, you can expect to get it in the mail within a few days. “In an emergency situation, a company can even overnight you a card,” says. When you get your new card, call the number on the back to activate it. And don’t forget to cut up the old card before throwing it away, Rathner adds.
What If It’s Your Debit Card?
Unfortunately, Rathner says, the rules for debit cards are less consumer friendly because your debit card is linked directly to your bank funds. “It’s no different than someone walking up to you, taking money out of your wallet and walking away,” she says. Credit cards, on the other hand, act as a ledger of payments you must make for the things you’ve purchased. “With a credit card, you make charges and no money is taken from the account until you pay your credit card bill,” Rathner says.
Report a lost debit card to the bank immediately. Have you noticed suspicious charges on your card? Report it within two days. If you wait, or notice too late, you’ll be on the hook for a maximum of $50, Rathner says, regardless of which bank you use.
If you fail to report the activity within 60 days of the suspicious transaction, Rathner says you’ll owe a maximum of $500, which can quickly add up if someone has been using your card for multiple, smaller transactions. Wait longer than 60 days, and you’re on the hook for all of the fraudulent payments.
“If that’s the account you pay your bills out of, then missing a couple thousand dollars for a few months can really affect your ability to pay your bills,” Rathner says. She adds that while critics might warn against credit cards because of how easily they can rack up debt, they’re also the safest method of payment when it comes to consumer protections.
How to Avoid Credit Card Theft in the First Place
Bad news: Thieves are becoming even more sophisticated in the digital age—but there are still ways to protect yourself. Beyond that, here are a few more easy precautions to take to keep your money safe. The best thing you can do is to remain vigilant: “Get in the habit of checking your statements and know where your money is going,” Rathner says.
When buying something online, Rathner recommends making sure the URL for the site begins with “https.” Sites that begin only with “http” do not have the same security features built in. Third-party services such as Paypal and Venmo offer some consumer protections, but Rathner points out those methods of payment aren’t accepted everywhere. “There’s always a risk when you use your credit card, even at a brick and mortar store, but especially online,” Rathner said. “Think about where you’re using your card and where the possibility for fraud exists.”
If you have a credit card you don’t use often, leave it at home in a secure place rather than taking it with you everywhere. When you do take your cards with you, be mindful of your purse or wallet. “Don’t leave your wallet on the table, and maybe switch it to your front instead of your back pocket,” Rathner said. “If you have a purse, don’t hang it on the back of your chair—keep it on your lap instead.” When possible, opt for a zippered purse since totes and purses with flap closures are easier to steal from.
Want to stay extra vigilant? Rathner says some banks can sign you up for text notifications for each purchase made on your card, so you can check in real time (the Nerdwallet app is one of them).