You may be imagining an unpleasant situation: a thief uses the card to drain your bank account, but the bills keep coming in. Because the money’s all gone, checks will bounce and payments will be reversed. You’ll have to pay penalties, and even the bank will ding you for overdraft charges. What’s more, scammers may find a way to spend more than you even have in your account.
You can avoid that worst-case-scenario by following the steps below.
Contact Your Bank
Contact your bank immediately once it’s clear that the card is missing (if it’s been stolen or you’ve given up hope of finding a misplaced card). Ideally you’ll have a bank statement handy with your card issuer’s phone number, or you can log in to your account and find contact information online. Logging in to your account online is especially helpful, as it allows you to see if the card was used since you lost it.
If you must, you can do a web search for your card issuer’s website, but beware of impostor websites that may have been set up with the goal of catching worried consumers (who are in a hurry to hand over personal information like a Social Security Number, because they don’t have a card number handy). Be sure to click around a little bit to make sure you’re at a legitimate website free of major technical, spelling, or grammatical errors, and does not trigger any security warnings from your web browser.
In some cases (if it’s a weekend and you bank at a small institution, for example) you might not reach your bank directly. Some card-issuers contract with service providers who will simply freeze your card, and you’ll have to follow up with your bank during business hours.
What to Say
Let your card issuer know that you do not have your card, and that it’s either lost or stolen. If you noticed any unauthorized transactions online, be sure to let them know. If you simply lost the card (and you’re not aware that it was stolen), ask about a temporary freeze. They may be able to disable the card for a few days in case it turns up in the clothes you wore last weekend. However, not every card issuer offers a temporary freeze, and it may be necessary to completely cancel the card.
It’s a good idea to follow up with your card issuer in writing, especially if you’re worried about the card being used fraudulently. Send a letter to the issuer explaining that you do not have the card and that it should be cancelled. Be sure to include the date on the letter, and use a delivery service that will confirm that the letter was delivered (USPS return receipt, or a delivery service tracking number).
Cancel Automatic Billing
Now that your card is disabled, be sure to notify anybody who might legitimately try to use the card. You might have payments billed to the card automatically each month, but those payments won’t go through anymore. Let your biller know this ahead of time, and provide a replacement card number so that you can avoid fees and headaches.
How Bad is It?
Now that you’ve secured the card against fraudulent use, you may wonder how much this will cost you. It’s most likely that your only cost will be a fee paid to your card issuer for a replacement card.
If the card is used fraudulently, your liability depends on how quickly you act. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) says that you’re not responsible for any charges after you notify your bank that the card is missing. If any transactions went through before you notified the bank, you can limit your losses to $50 as long as you notify the bank within two days of realizing that the card is missing. If you go past the two day mark, your risk increases to $500 – but you still have to notify the bank that your card is missing within 60 days after the bank sends your statement. If you fail to notify the bank within 60 days, your liability is unlimited; thieves can drain your account and exhaust any lines of credit available, and you’re out of luck unless you have a good reason for failing to notify the bank (for example, you were hospitalized).
As you can see, the faster you act, the safer you are.
What if you are responsible for fraudulent charges? Thieves may have used the card before you contacted the bank to disable it. You can always ask the bank to cancel those transactions, but the bank doesn’t have to accommodate your request. If you have to eat the charges, contact your insurance agent to find out if your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy will cover any of your losses.