You might have gone through the scenario in your head before: what would you do if your credit card was stolen or if you simply lost it? Of course, the emotions and sense of panic that come with being robbed or realizing that you misplaced something valuable can make it difficult to think clearly. Having a set plan for these unfortunately situations is very important. You can overcome the any panic by making it as easy as possible to take the correct steps so that you can cut off a thief before they start using your card to make purchases or ATM withdrawals. In the age of swipe and sign credit card processing, acting quickly (within a matter of minutes) is very important.
Know exactly what’s in your wallet and purse. You will have to immediately notify your banks and credit card companies if your credit/debit cards are stolen (see more on this below). To do this effectively, you have to know exactly what’s in your wallet so that you can place the correct call.
Keep relevant numbers in several places so that you can call immediately to report stolen cards. Most banks and credit card companies have 1-800 numbers that are staffed by operators 24-hours per day. You can keep the numbers in your cell phone, but also keep them in another place as well (a safe place at home and in your car) in case your cell phone is stolen along with your wallet or purse.
Federal law states that you are only liable for $50 worth of fraudulent charges per credit card. That can add up, especially if you carry multiple cards and all of them are stolen. However, if you can call and report your cards stolen quickly, you are not liable for any charges made after your initial report. So the quicker that you call, the less likely it will be that you will be liable for any charges.
The theft policies for debit cards are quite similar to credit cards, with one major difference. How long it takes you to report your card missing determines your overall liability. If you report your card missing immediately, before a thief has a chance to use it, you are not liable for any charges. If you take a day or two days to report the card missing, you are liable for $50 worth of charges. If you wait longer than two days, you may have to pay for a significant portion of the thief’s swipes. So obviously, the faster that you report your debit card missing or report any fraudulent charges, the better of you will be.
While a robbery or lost purse or wallet requires quick calls to banks and credit card companies, some simple steps can also help. Never carry your pin number for an ATM-ready card in your wallet. Memorize it (write it down and keep it in a safe place at home, if you must). There is always a chance that a store clerk would ask a thief for ID when he is swiping a stolen card, but an ID check would never happen at an ATM machine, so if a thief has your pin number, they can make withdrawals without having to worry about an ID check.
Regularly check your bank account activity. Sign up for online access from your bank and credit cards and check every few days to see if there is any unauthorized activity. At least check your paper statements monthly to make sure that all the charges and/or ATM withdrawals are legitimate.
What if you think you lost your card? If you simply misplaced your card and suddenly realize that it might be lost, it is better to err on the side of caution and report it missing before you start a long search for it. Credit card companies don’t want to be liable for fraudulent charges, so they will generally be understanding if you report your card missing simply because you misplaced it. They will most likely issue you a new card quickly. You can cut up the old one if it turns up later.