Dealing With Lost/Stolen Debit or Credit Cards

May 21, 2010

Dealing With Lost/Stolen Debit or Credit Cards

It can be scary to realize you have lost your debit or credit card – or worse, that someone may have stolen it.  It may help to know that there are federal laws that protect you in these situations:  the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.  These laws also provide guidelines of what to do when your cards are lost or stolen.

The first thing you need to do is contact the card issuer.  Most issuers have a 24-hour, toll-free phone number you can call to deal with these issues.  If your card is through a bank or credit union, it’s also a good idea to call your local branch directly.

Unauthorized Charges – Credit Cards

If you report the loss/theft before an unauthorized charge comes through, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for those charges.  If the card is used before you report it missing, you can only be held responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized charges per card.  If you still have your actual card but someone steals the card number, you are not responsible for any unauthorized use.

Unauthorized Charges – Debit Cards

If you report a debit card missing before unauthorized use, you cannot be held responsible for any fraudulent activity.  If unauthorized activity occurs before you report the card lost or stolen, your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss.  If you report the loss within two business days after you discover the card is missing, you will only be held responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized charges.  If you wait longer than two business days, you could be responsible for up to $500 of unauthorized charges.  If you wait more than 60 days after receiving your periodic statement that contains unauthorized activity, you could face unlimited liability.

Once you’ve reported the loss of your Debit/ATM card, you cannot be held liable for additional fraudulent activity that occurs after that time.

Card Safety Tips

  • Never write your account number on the outside of an envelope or postcard.
  • Don’t carry your PIN with you or write it where it could be easily seen or lost.
  • Draw a line through blank spaces on a charge or debit slip so the amount cannot be changed.
  • Don’t sign a blank charge or debit slip.
  • Cut up old cards before throwing them away.
  • Open monthly statements promptly and verify all charges.
  • Keep a record of account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers of card issuers so you can report a loss or theft quickly.  Store this information separately from your cards.  (When travelling, give a copy to a trusted friend or family member.)