Know what to do if your credit cards or debit or ATM cards are stolen. Theft can happen to anyone, and you need to be prepared to take action, protect your rights and stop the thieves in their tracks. Know how to follow up after a loss, too.

Two main federal laws, The Fair Credit Billing Act ("FCBA") and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act ("EFTA") cover consumer rights and procedures for card theft and loss. The Federal Trade Commission is a good resource for consumer research on these laws and issues related to credit, debit and ATM accounts and use.

Stop the Thief, and Your Losses

As soon as you realize a theft or loss of your credit card or ATM or debit card, report it to the card issuer. Almost all companies have 24-hour service numbers and loss departments to handle these emergencies. Timing is very important: the sooner you call, the less likely it will cost you any money.

Reporting a Credit Card Theft or Loss

First call the issuer, and follow up with a letter summarizing your call. You'll likely receive a similar letter from the issuer. Report when you realized the card loss; the customer service rep usually asks for details, and may confirm whether you made recent transactions posting in the issuer's systems.

Your liability for unauthorized charges. The FCBA limits your responsibility if a thief uses your credit card before you can report it to $50 a card. If you contact the issuer before a thief uses the card, you're not liable for any unauthorized charges to your card. You're also not liable for any unauthorized charges if the loss was the actual credit card number, and not the card.

Follow up after the theft. After you report a credit card theft or loss, review your next several bills carefully to make sure all charges are legitimate. If you find any more unauthorized charges, call and send the issuer a letter with the details, and state again that the card was stolen or lost. Send your letter to the billing errors contact address, which should be on your bill.

ATM or Debit Card Theft or Loss

Call your bank immediately when an ATM or debit card is stolen or lost. Your loss limits depend on when you gave notice to your bank.

  • You aren't liable for any unauthorized use if you report your lost or stolen card to the bank before someone tries to use it
  • If your report of card loss or theft is within two days after you notice its missing, you're responsible for up to $50 for any unauthorized use
  • If the loss isn't reported within two days, your possible loss amount goes up to $500 of unauthorized use
  • You may face unlimited loss if your don't report unauthorized activity within 60 days of when your bank statement listing those transactions is mailed to you. Your account balance and your overdraft line of credit are at risk

Once you've notified the bank of the theft or loss, you're not liable for later unauthorized transfers. Note if the loss was only your ATM or debit number, and not the card, your liability is for unauthorized use after 60 days of the mailing date for the statement listing the transfers, and before the time you report the loss. It's important to review your statements, and do so promptly!

Protect Your Cards and Your Peace of Mind

Know where your credit, debit and ATM cards are, and make sure they're secure. Card PIN numbers (personal identification numbers) are secrets. Don't base PINs on common personal information, such as your address, family birthdates or pets' names - those are easy for a thief to figure out. PINs should not be written down or on the card.

Safe and secure credit card use tips:

  • Use caution in giving out your account number over the phone
  • Don't leave blanks on charge slip forms; draw a line across any blanks
  • Destroy carbons of receipts, and always take your receipts; keep them until you reconcile your monthly bill
  • Keep your wallet light and carry only the cards you think you'll need
  • Make and keep a photocopy of your cards, listing the issuer's customer service number, and keep this in a safe place. If your wallet or purse is stolen, you've got complete backup info ready

Safe debit and ATM card use tips:

  • Always take your receipts; don't throw them away in a waste basket near the ATM machine
  • Record your transactions, and reconcile your monthly statement promptly

Use common sense, and keep card use convenient and practical.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What happens and who decides if I disagree with a card issuer over a charge made to a stolen card?
  • How long does my bank have to credit my account for a transfer made with a stolen ATM card?
  • Do thefts or losses of cards show up on your credit reports or affect your credit scores?

Tagged as: Consumer Law, Consumer Fraud, credit card theft, consumer fraud lawyer