Here's what to do if your credit card is lost or stolen, whether you're at home or traveling abroad
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- If you suspect your credit card is lost or stolen, contact your card issuer immediately to report your card as missing. This limits your exposure to unauthorized charges and puts the wheels in motion to get a replacement.
- Monitor the account in question for fraudulent purchases, and keep an eye on your credit report for signs of more widespread criminal activity.
- Your card will be deactivated once it's reported missing, so update any accounts where that card is used to make automatic or recurring payments.
- If you're traveling, be sure to pack more than one credit card, reduce your credit limits, and keep them in separate places to reduce the chances of losing them all at once.
- Read Business Insider's guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.
A lost or stolen credit card can be a headache beyond the potential for fraudulent purchases. Here are six critical steps you should take if your credit card wanders off, along with some preventative measures for travelers to minimize the potential impact of a misplaced card.
Report your card as lost or stolen immediately
Notifying your card issuer is a simple but vital first step, and the sooner it's done, the better. Reporting the loss or theft gets you off the hook for fraudulent charges (in most cases), and allows your card issuer to freeze the account and prevent further charges from going through.
An ounce of prevention here is worth a pound of cure, as a five-minute phone call before any damage is done can save you from an interminable stream of calls, emails, and paperwork if you delay.
One complicating factor is that without the card in hand, you can't reference the phone number on the back, so I recommend storing customer service numbers for your credit cards wherever you typically keep emergency contact information. You can also contact customer service online if calling isn't an option, and some card issuers allow you to freeze your account directly.
Check your transaction history for credit card fraud
Once you've notified your card issuer, review your recent account activity for unauthorized transactions. You may be able to identify fraudulent purchases with the help of an agent during the initial customer service call; otherwise, scour the account online yourself afterward.
Note the date, vendor, and amount of any purchases you didn't initiate, but avoid misidentifying authorized user transactions as fraudulent, since that will only create additional headaches.
File a police report
You can skip this step when you're confident your lost credit card was just misplaced and you haven't detected any unauthorized use. If you suspect it was stolen or someone else is already using it, however, then you should contact local authorities.
The goal here isn't to get your card back — it's just a piece of plastic and can easily be replaced. Instead, a police report will serve as evidence to support your claim of fraudulent activity. Get all the information you have in the report, and keep a hard copy for your own records.
Monitor your credit report
This step is mandatory if your credit card is lost or stolen alongside other sensitive personal information (like a passport or checkbook), or if your account shows unauthorized activity while the physical card remains in your possession (since that suggests broader identity theft). Check your credit report for new accounts you didn't open or unfamiliar balances on legitimate accounts, and report such findings immediately to the relevant financial institution.
You should check your credit report regularly in optimal circumstances, but be hypervigilant for a few months if you suspect your account or identity has been hacked. In that case, I also recommend changing passwords and PINs for all of your accounts, not just the ones that have already been impacted.
Update automatic payment settings
When you report your credit card as lost or stolen, your card issuer will deactivate the account and send you a replacement with a new card number, expiration date, and CVV code.
You'll need to update all that information anywhere you use the old card to make recurring payments (like your phone bill or Netflix account), and review transactions initiated with the old card that haven't fully processed (like a hotel reservation or an Amazon purchase that hasn't shipped yet). If you neglect this step, your old card will be charged (and declined), which could result in late fees, cancellations, and other costs.
Don't let it ruin your trip
Losing your credit card is inconvenient, and dealing with the fallout probably isn't your idea of fun, but it shouldn't be all-consuming. Here are four precautions you can take to mitigate the impact a lost or stolen credit card has on your travel plans:
- Pack extra cards. I recommend bringing multiple spares: some that you carry with you, and at least one that you leave in a more secure location (like your hotel room). Also, don't put all the cards you carry with you in one place; I keep my two most frequently used cards in my phone case, but I keep another in my day pack so losing them all at once is less likely. Bonus tip: bring travel credit cards representing different card issuers and networks so you have a variety of options if one is out of service.
- Use an all-purpose card with a low credit limit as your primary payment option. A lower credit limit means lower exposure to criminal activity, so I always pack one card with a credit limit I've reduced to $2,000. That limit is enough to cover my everyday expenses like meals and local transportation, but low enough to avoid catastrophe if I were somehow to be held liable for fraudulent charges. You should be protected regardless of the amount, but you'll get less pushback on $1,000 of fraudulent charges than you will on $10,000.
- Note which cards you're carrying when you travel. I often have a half dozen or more cards with me to serve various functions when I travel (like getting airport lounge access or avoiding foreign transaction fees). Most of them get used once or twice at most, so I might not notice right away if one went missing. To keep track of all the cards in my wallet, I add them to my packing list before I depart, and I make sure they're all still in my possession when I return.
- Bring cash. The question of how much cash to pack is a perennial enigma for travelers, but the answer is almost never zero. Cash is the panacea for most credit card ailments, so bring enough to tide you over for a few days. You should also have a way to access more if needed, such as an ATM card, traveler's checks (yes, they still make those), or a prepaid debit card (for domestic travel).
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