A lot of people have a safe place where they store their cash and credit cards. Whether yours is a wallet, a purse, or a breast pocket, you can count on finding your money there when you need it.
Until one day, you may not.
A lost or stolen credit card is a scary thing. Your mind immediately conjures up long, coiling receipts as the thief racks up bills and ruins your credit history. But your worst nightmare may not become a reality.
Credit card fraud may be an eventual consequence of your missing card. But does it mean you’ll have to pay off bills you didn’t have anything to do with and rebuild your credit history you didn’t spoil? Let’s find out!
What is Credit Card Fraud?
Credit card fraud is any unauthorized charge on your account. It typically happens when someone steals your physical card or account number to make purchases without your permission.
A thief can do a lot of damage to your finances with these numbers in their hands. It means they may have what it takes to fill out an application for a loan or a line of credit in your name.
Once they start doing that, a criminal graduates from a small-time fraudster to an identity thief. This promotion spells trouble for your finances, as it may have far-reaching consequences to your credit history. If you don’t catch them right away, the thief may max out existing accounts and open several new ones in your name.
How to Spot Credit Card Fraud
If your card goes completely AWOL, there’s a good chance that one of two things happened. Either you misplaced it, or someone stole it.
In either scenario, the missing plastic in your wallet can be a pretty good indicator that your data may be at risk. But don’t mistake this as the first and only sign of credit card fraud.
It could happen even if your card is where it should be.
Between phishing scams and major data breaches exposing consumer information, there are ample opportunities for cyberthieves to nab your account number. They may steal it right from under your nose without ever touching your physical card.
If you’re exposed to credit card fraud in this way, it might not be as obvious as an empty slot in your wallet. But the signs are still there if you know what to look for.
Understanding more about your credit score may help you spot things that don’t belong on your report. Things like:
- Unusual items on your billing statement
- Purchases made in a location you haven’t visited
- Less available credit than you expected
- Cash advances drawn against your limit
- The bank or card provider calls you
- Suspicious activity in your credit report
It’s important to note that once your personal information is compromised, any account may be affected. If you suspect something is wrong, check in with every financial institution you have an account with to be safe.
What to Do if Your Credit Card is Stolen
Fraud is worrying enough on its own. Throw the increased risk of identity theft into the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.
This is why it’s important to address your missing card without delay. The faster you react, the better defense you have against theft in all its forms.
So, what should you do if your credit card is stolen or missing? These tips may help you guide the way.
1. Contact the Card Provider
Once you realize your card is gone, don’t sit on this information. Share it right away with your credit card company.
Get in touch by calling the number on your statement. Let the representative who answers know what happened, and they’ll walk you through the next steps.
You may have to answer some questions to verify your identity. Be prepared by having your account number and other personal information at hand. Once you file your report, your provider will cancel your card and send you a new one in the mail.
2. Stay Calm but Act Fast
When things go wrong, it’s easy to assume the worst. Like how your card must be in the hands of a thief, and they’re maxing out your limit. What’s more, it’s only a matter of time before the company starts hounding you to pay the bill!
But you know what they say about assumptions. They’re as unhelpful as they are inaccurate.
The thief may go on a shopping spree, that much is true, but you aren’t necessarily accountable for all the bills they may rack up.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), consumers can expect some liability protection. How much you end up having to pay depends on if and when the thief makes a purchase. If you report the stolen credit card after someone uses your card without your permission, you may pay no more than $50.
If you manage to report your stolen credit card before the thief can use it, you won’t have to cough up any cash.
In other words, the faster you act, the less you’ll have to pay.
3. Change Your Passwords
Knowing you won’t be on the hook for a massive bill comes as a huge relief, but your work isn’t over yet.
Next up, you’ll want to update the PIN and online password you use for the card. This helps lock your fraudster out of the account for good.
You may also want to consider changing your passwords for the rest of your financial accounts, including your online checking or line of credit accounts.
Regularly changing your passwords and PINs is a good idea, even if you haven’t lost a card. It makes your financial data harder to crack, provided you use strong passwords. A strong password makes it harder for a thief to break into your account by brute force.
Follow these tips to beef up your security:
- Use a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters
- Avoid dates, names, and other easy-to-guess words
- Create a unique password for each account
- Don’t save passwords on shared or public devices
Without familiar names or dates, a strong password often ends up being a random assortment of letters, numbers, and characters. Remembering something like “Keu27!&0ma” is half the battle.
4. Check Your Credit Report
In all likelihood, any potential fraud will be contained to the lost card. But there’s a chance it’s merely the appetizer to the main course: identity theft.
If the thief manages to get their hands on your Social Security Number (SSN) and contact information, they may be able to pose as you as they open additional loans and lines of credit in your name.
By checking your report regularly, you’ll be able to see how big of an impact a thief has on your finances.
AnnualCreditReports.com makes it easy to check in with your report. Here you’ll get one free check a year each from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Once you get this report, make sure you look out for the following:
- Incorrect contact information
- Missing or inaccurate payment history
- Inaccurate balances and credit limits
- Duplicate accounts or tradelines
- Unexplainable credit inquiries
- New accounts you didn’t open
If you spot anything unusual in your report, you’ll want to reach out to the following three companies right away:
- The reporting agency that shows the error
- The company or provider of the affected account
- IdentityTheft.gov, the government’s portal on fraud
By contacting the reporting agency and provider, you’ll find out what information you need to flag the issue and dispute your error.
As for number three on our list, you don’t have to visit IdentifyTheft.gov, but we recommend it. It’s a great resource provided by the Federal Trade Commission. It comes with personalized recovery plans, and in some cases, registering here sidesteps the need to file a police report.
5. Consider a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert is a special statement placed on your credit file. It flags you as a potential victim of fraud or identity theft, which makes it harder for thieves to open accounts in your name.
This free service lasts 90 days and is available even if you only suspect your personal information has been compromised. However, if you know without a doubt that you’re a victim of fraud or identity theft, you may set up an extended alert that lasts for seven years.
While it’s in place, financial institutions must perform greater vetting before approving a loan or a line of credit in your name. You may lift an alert at any time or wait until it expires.
All you need to do to protect your credit history with an alert is to contact one of the major reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. By law, the reporting agency you contact must notify the other two about this flag.
How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud
While the steps above are relatively easy to follow, they take up your time and energy — both of which may be on short supply!
It’s a whole lot easier if you never have to deal with fraud in the first place. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to prevent fraud outright. What you can do is minimize the chances of exposing your information accidentally.
Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Keep your wallet or purse in a safe place
- Share your account information online carefully
- Shop from secure websites of trusted retailers
- Review your statements online or at every billing cycle
- Check your credit report often
- Shred bills and other documents with contact or financial information
- Watch the news for data breaches affecting companies you use
How Does an Online Line of Credit Fit in?
Dealing with the aftermath of a stolen credit card is frustrating enough. But if sticky fingers steal away your card right when you need it, it can be incredibly nerve-wracking.
It may take a couple of weeks before your new card arrives in the mail. If during those weeks you experience an unexpected emergency expense, the thief may leave you in the lurch.
At this point, you may want more information on a line of credit. A line of credit may be a possible emergency alternative that helps with minor yet urgent medical bills or car repairs.
If approved, you’ll receive a limit that you may redraw from on a revolving basis as you pay off your balance.
Nevertheless, it’s not a one-for-one replacement. Make sure you compare the details of a line of credit to other options before you commit to anything in an unexpected emergency.
Keep Calm and Carry on
Whether your card is stolen or not, credit card fraud is frustrating, to say the least. It may be a nail-biting experience if you don’t realize it’s happening until the thief has already wracked up expenses.
But there is some good news. The steps to reversing these purchases start with a relatively simple phone call. And remember, the Fair Credit Billing Act means you won’t be stuck financing the thief’s shopping spree.
If you act fast and check your credit for identity theft, you may be fine. You don’t have to fear credit card fraud will ruin your chances at a normal life.
To learn more about how to protect your credit history and finances at large, check out the rest of our blog for more information!
Disclaimer: This article provides
general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other
professional advice. For full details, see CreditFresh’s Terms of
Posted in: Lifestyle