Here's what to do, and what not to do, if you lose your credit card.
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Losing a credit card is too easy to do. They're often left at checkout counters, on the tables in restaurants, or abandoned at bars that hold them when you have an open tab. Losing a credit card can be scary, but the worst that can ultimately come of it is a little inconvenience. In contrast to debit cards, credit cards have much better protection if they're lost or stolen.
Below, I'll go through what to do if you lose your credit card, step by step.
1. Don't panic! Your money is safe
Losing your credit card is no big deal because you aren't responsible for anyone misusing it. By law, you can only be held liable for up to $50 of unauthorized purchases. In practice, we've never heard of any bank actually enforcing the law and holding cardholders liable for losses resulting from a lost or stolen credit card.
Most banks specifically say in the terms and conditions of card offers that their cardholders aren't liable for any fraudulent charges. And few would want the potential public relations disaster of demanding $50 from a cardholder who simply lost his or her card.
The truth is that most people who might find your card are people who aren't going to risk jail time using your card to make fraudulent purchases. And, frankly, there's a pretty good chance you'll find your card stuffed in between the couch cushions or in the abyss that exists between car seats days or weeks later.
That said, you should take action as soon as possible to minimize the brain damage and annoyance of going without a card.
2. Report the lost card to the credit card company
You should report your lost card to your card company as quickly as possible. That way it can be invalidated and can no longer be used to make new purchases. Normally, you'd find the issuer's phone number by looking at the back of the card, but since it isn't in your possession, you'll need to look elsewhere.
If you know the issuing bank for the card, you can save a lot of time. Here are the relevant phone numbers for the major card issuers.
Bank of America
Synchrony Financial (store cards)
Store cards are most commonly issued by Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Synchrony Financial, but contacting the retailer is a good way to figure out which bank is actually responsible for managing a retailer's store card.
Here are some places to find the card issuer's contact information:
Your statement. Your most recent billing statement should have both the name of the card issuer as well as a phone number to contact. Knowing the issuing bank is usually all the information you need. From there, you can find the phone number in the table above, or do a quick online search.
Your online card account. If you manage your card online, you'll be able to find the name of the issuing bank and contact information on their website. Generally speaking, card companies require that you notify them of a lost card by phone rather than via an online message or email.
Your card company will likely ask you for some personal information to verify who you are. You should expect to have to provide your full name and address at a minimum.
Never give your information to anyone over the phone unless you initiate the call. If the card company calls you for information, hang up, find the phone number on the card company's website, and call them back. It's a common scam for people to phone unsuspecting individuals and pose as bank employees when they're just scammers trying to get your personal information.
3. Keep an eye on your purchases
Having online access to your credit card account makes life easier, particularly if your card is lost or stolen. Many issuers will show recent purchases in the "pending" section of your recent transactions, which is a good place to look for any suspect charges you didn't authorize.
My experience with lost or stolen cards is that thieves tend to make a small purchase first to see if a credit card works before making much larger charges. In one case, my card was used to buy a small amount of gasoline and a meal at Taco Bell before it was used to make thousands of dollars in charges at a GameStop and other electronics stores.
The point I'm trying to make is that you shouldn't just look for large charges. If someone is using your card to make purchases, they'll probably make a couple small purchases to test the waters. Those "test" purchases can blend in with your normal spending patterns, so it makes sense to comb through your recent transactions very carefully.
4. Get a new card and update your recurring bills
When you report a card as lost, your credit card company will shut off the card and issue you a new one, typically with a new number, expiration date, and security code (the three or four digits on the back). The new card will be mailed to you and should arrive within a week. Some issuers will expedite a new card by overnight or next day delivery for free if you ask nicely.
It's here that you'll find the most annoying part about losing a card: You'll need to update all of your payment information for any recurring bills that you have. For example, if you used your card to pay for things like a gym membership, cable, phone bills, utilities, insurance premiums, and so on, you'll need to go update that information at each merchant one by one.
Your statement for the previous month can help you figure out where you need to update your payment information. It's a chore, to be sure, but it shouldn't take much longer than 30 minutes or so to update your payment information where you need to.
Things you shouldn't do if you lose your credit card
There are two things that you should avoid doing if your card is lost or stolen because they'll only hurt you:
Don't lower your credit limit -- If your credit limit is reduced to $1,000 instead of $10,000, thieves won't be able to get very far with your card. But doing this will only hurt yourself. Having large credit limits is an important part of having a good credit score, and you aren't responsible for unauthorized charges, anyway.
Don't close your account -- Closing a credit card account to deal with a lost card is going overboard. An open credit card account adds account age and depth to your credit report, helping your credit score. Contact the card issuer so that they can send you a new card with a new number.
The key message: Don't lose any sleep over a credit card disappearance. Losing a credit card will cost you a little time on the phone, but it's unlikely to cost you any money.
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