Most people have at some point experienced the panic of losing a credit card. That sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you left the card behind at a restaurant or that your wallet was lifted by a pickpocket on the subway, followed swiftly by a spike in blood pressure as you imagine some stranger having a field day at Neiman Marcus.
But a lost or stolen credit card isn’t the end of the world. There’s actually a standard process by which you can report it missing and limit the damage.
Step 1: Report it to the company
The quicker you do this the better. According to the Federal Trade Commission, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card tops out at $50.
However, if you report the loss before your credit card is used, the FCBA says you are not responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize. Find the phone number for reporting a lost card on your most recent bill.
Many companies have toll-free numbers and a 24-hour service for such emergencies. If you have online access to your account, you may be able to use the company’s website to report your missing credit card. In addition to cancelling the card, most credit card companies will immediately issue you a new one with a new account number.
Step 2: Call the police
File a report with the police. This provides additional protection should your lost card fall into the hands of identity thieves.
Step 3: Follow up
Send the credit card company a formal letter or e-mail. Include your account number, the date and time when you noticed your card was missing, and when you first reported the loss, the FTC says.
Keep a copy of the letter. It’s also a good idea to send it by certified mail and ask for a return receipt.
Step 4: Review and notify sources of automatic charges
Many of us have set up automatic payments on credit cards. Is Netflix or your favorite charity taking its monthly fee from this card? Go through your most recent bills and make a list of all the automatic payments, says Lifehacker.com. If you’ve already received a new account number from your credit card company, update each account with the new credit card information (usually you can do this online). Otherwise, your service may be disrupted when the payment is rejected for the old account number. Also, you may need to notify any companies from which you made any recent online purchases, especially those that don’t charge your card until the merchandize is shipped.
Step 5: Watch your statement
Check your card statement carefully for transactions you didn’t make. Report these transactions to the card issuer as quickly as possible via letter. Be sure to send the letter to the address provided for billing errors.
Step 6: Place a fraud alert
Three national credit reporting companies keep records of your credit history. If someone has misused your personal or financial information, call one of the companies and ask for an initial fraud alert on your credit report, according to the FTC.
A fraud alert is free. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The initial alert stays on your report for at least 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days. It allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.