What To Do If Your Credit Card Is Stolen
I wanted to share a bizarre story that Sarah ran into this month with a stolen credit card. It involves an inside job, mail fraud, a compromised card and tons of drama! Okay, I just oversold that ton, but I still felt it is a story worth sharing. It goes to show how far scammers are willing to go and what seems safe isn't always safe. Plus, I wanted to share some best practices and to answer the question, what to do if your credit card is stolen. Especially if you are away from home when it happens.
Sarah was recently on a trip to Portland, Maine, which is a craft beer mecca by the way. While she was there she left a credit card behind that her friend now had possession of. No big deal, she just told her friend to throw the credit card in the mail and send it back to her. This wouldn't be an issue 99.9% of the time, but Sarah fell into the 0.1%.
When she received the envelope from her friend there was no credit card inside. She was confused at first, since there didn't seem to be any tampering with the envelope. The sealed part did not seem to be altered in any way. Upon further inspection there was a slit in the side of the envelope where they slide the credit card out. The envelope looked perfectly normal unless you bend it to pop out the sides.
This seems to be some kind of an inside job. Someone that had access to the mail at a point along the mail delivery system. The only other option would be that someone got to it in the mailbox outside their house. That seems extremely unlikely, since their house is kind of remote. It is a scary thought really. The thought that the people in charge of our mail would commit a Federal crime, but that seems to be what happened.
Protecting Yourself From Credit Card Theft
The one thing I would suggest, if you are mailing something sensitive like a credit card, is to wrap it up in some paper or something else. Using a padded envelope is even better if you can. That hides the fact that there is a credit card like object in there. I am not sure if Sarah's friend did anything like that before mailing it. I am guessing not, since they were able to slip the card out without noticeably damaging the envelope.
Luckily, Sarah collected the mail promptly before the thief could make use of her credit limit. She contacted Citi as soon as it was missing and had them cancel the card and issue a new one with a new card number. No harm, no foul.
What To Do If Your Credit Card Is Stolen
I wanted to share Sarah's story for a few different reasons. First to show that even the mail system isn't safe. There are ways to limit your exposure if you are mailing something sensitive, like padding out the envelope to hide the card, but nothing is fool proof. I also wanted to discuss what to do if your credit card is stolen. It will likely happen at one point or another in your travels to you or someone you are with. Or, you may just misplace it at one point or another, like leaving it behind at the bar or with a friend etc. Because of that, I wanted to run through some options on what to do if your credit card is stolen or misplaced.
Freeze Your Card Online
The easiest thing to do is to freeze your card online. Many issuers have this feature now and it can be useful. Whether you are waiting to get the card back in your possession, or not quite sure if it is lost or misplaced at that point in time, you can freeze it until you know for sure. This essentially puts a block on your card and means that no one can use it, not even you, until you unfreeze it, or unlock it again.
Report Your Card Lost Or Stolen & Request A New One
If you know for sure your card is stolen or lost, the first thing you should do is report it to your bank. That could be done online with some banks or you can just call their 1-800 number if not. If you don't have another one of their cards with you then just Google their customer service number. If you report the card lost the bank will shut down the credit card and issue you a new one with a new number.
That is an important part of what to do when your credit card is stolen. If you just ask for a new card, saying it isn't working etc., then they will reissue you a card with the same number. You will want to have a new number issued so the thief, or person who finds your card, won't have access to anything useful anymore. Be sure to say your card is lost or stolen.
This Is An Option If You Left It Behind
This would have been a good option for Sarah too. Instead of having her friend mail it to her she could have just reported the card lost. Some may want to avoid this if your card is tied to any auto billing etc. It may be worth the try to get it back to avoid the hassle of changing everything over to the new number. On the flip side, if you go this route then no one has to go through the hassle, or cost, of mailing it back to you.
What If You Are Traveling?
If you are traveling, or abroad, then you have a couple of options. Many banks will ship the replacement card to your hotel wherever you are if you report your credit card stolen. They will likely even expedite it for you if you ask. I mean, they want that all important vacation spend on their card after all.
You could also have it shipped to your house so the new card is there when you get home. I usually take a few cards with me when traveling and always leave 1 or 2 behind in the safe in case my wallet is stolen. A good practice is to never try to keep all your financial eggs in one basket while traveling.
Check Your Charges & File A Claim Against Fraudulent Charges
Remember to keep your eye on the account for a few days for any fraudulent charges after your credit card is lost or stolen. These could be delayed in posting etc. so you may not see them on the day that the card is lost or stolen. If you do notice an unauthorized charge then file a dispute on it.
That is one great thing about credit cards, their protections. If you didn't make the charge then you won't have to pay it. At least most of the time. If you recently reported the card lost or stolen it shouldn't be much of an issue. While business cards have some of the same protections I should note that personal cards have beefier protections. I figured it is something you should be aware of.
I had a charge I didn't recognize on my Amex Business Gold card that was some sort of Facebook advertising. This seems to be a prevalent problem with Amex but on multiple occasions they didn't credit my claim. It was only for a couple of dollars so I just reported the card compromised so they would issue me a new number and put an end to it.
Keep An Eye On Future Statements
Even if you don't notice any fraudulent charges initially, and get a new card number, the best practice is to pay close attention to future statements. It is likely that nothing would happen at that point but better to err on the side of caution. Just take a few more seconds with the compromised card's statement the next few months to ensure everything on there is legit.
You could also set up alerts for large transactions on the account so you are aware of any shenanigans in real time.
Change Login Information
Going to the extreme of erring on the side of caution when your credit card is lost or stolen is changing your login information for the card's account. The thinking is that if the scammer had your card they had more info to try to get into your accounts. If they do that they can change logins, drain rewards, change addresses and the whole thing. It may be worth the few seconds to avoid all of that potential hassle.
Look Over Your Credit Reports
Along the same vein of changing your login information is to review your credit reports after a few weeks / months. You will want to do this just to ensure the thief didn't someone get access to new credit in your name. This would likely happen if they were able to access one of your accounts or profiles when your credit card was stolen. They could then apply for a new card and have it sent to your “new” home address. The flip side of that auto filled application availability when logged in.
You could also decide to freeze your credit reports for a bit to be extra cautious.
Aside from answering the question, what to do if your credit card is stolen, I wanted to add a side note, a positive of the system if you will. If you have something set up that auto bills and has an annoying cancellation set up, think satellite radio or newspaper, then you can claim your card as lost and get a new number. This means the company will no longer be able to bill it and will automatically cancel your account. Use that power for good, or for something at least…
What To Do If Your Credit Card Is Stolen: ToP Thoughts
Hopefully you now know what to do if your credit card is stolen going forward. There are steps you need to take in order to protect your account, money and credit profile. Most of it can be handled pretty quickly and can be handled online. It is better to take a few minutes getting out ahead of it now versus dealing with the headache that is identity theft down the line.
Have you ever had your credit card stolen? Share your story over in the ToP Facebook Group.