What to Do When You've Lost a Debit Card

Steps You Need to Take Quickly After Losing Your Card

Person walking away from wallet they accidentally dropped
•••

phanasitti / Getty Images

A lost or stolen debit card is an anxiety-producing event—and for good reason. If somebody uses that card, funds come out of your bank account immediately. You need to act fast so you can put this moment of panic behind you before anything bad happens.

The details will be covered below, but if you just lost your card, immediately call your bank or card issuer and let them know. You need to freeze or cancel the card first and foremost so that anyone who finds your card won't be able to use it.

What to Do If You've Lost Your Debit Card

Here are the steps you need to take if you can't find your debit card.

Contact Your Bank

Contact your bank as soon as you realize your card is missing. If there's any uncertainty about where your card is, you should still reach out to your bank. For example, maybe you think you remember leaving your wallet in a booth at a bar. However, you don't know for sure that's where you left it, and since you aren't at the bar anymore, you can't be sure that it's still there.

Any uncertainty benefits thieves—not you—so it's best to quickly contact your bank out of an abundance of caution.

If you regularly check your bank statements on a web browser or phone app, then you can use that log-in information to contact your bank. Most websites and apps will have a section dedicated to reporting lost or stolen cards, and some of these services will immediately cancel a misplaced card. While you're online, check your account balance and recent transactions to ensure that a thief hasn't already started draining your funds.

If you don’t have contact information, perform a web search for your bank or card issuer’s website. However, don't let your desperation cloud your judgment. Scammers may build imposter websites designed to catch worried customers in a hurry to contact their bank. An online scammer can't do much with the fact that you've lost your card, but if you start talking to the scammer and reveal sensitive information—thinking that you're talking to a legitimate bank representative—then you could be putting yourself at risk.

Take a second to check out the website before calling anyone or giving out any information. Ensure that the website is secure, free of grammatical errors, and has an accurate URL.

In some cases, such as during bank holidays, you might not be able to reach your bank. However, card issuers typically have 24/7 fraud departments or contracts with service providers who can freeze your card. No matter the day or hour, you should be able to reach someone who can help you freeze your card.

Ask for a Freeze or Cancel the Card

Notify your bank or card issuer that you do not have your card, and it’s either lost or stolen. If you simply lost the card, and you think you might be able to find it, then you can ask for a temporary freeze. That freeze will prevent the card from working while you try to find out where it is.

If you've noticed any fraudulent activity on your account, this is a good time to bring it up.

Not all cards can be frozen, and if yours can't (or you're worried you won't be able to find it) then you'll have to cancel the card and get a new one. Getting a new card is usually a pretty quick process, though some providers charge a fee for new cards.

Cancel Automatic Billing

After your card is disabled, notify any entities who might try to charge the card legitimately. Billers like your electricity or internet provider might automatically take payments from the card each month, but those payments may not go through successfully if you've canceled your card. Notify billers ahead of time, and provide a replacement card number so that you can avoid late fees and other inconveniences.

In some cases, your bank might allow a few charges to come through if those charges are known to be legitimate. For example, monthly charges that have a long track record of going undisputed won't be seen as suspect. Still, it's best to contact your biller ahead of time rather than depending on your bank to judge the charge as legitimate.

Follow Up

It’s a good idea to follow up with your card issuer in writing, especially if you’re worried about somebody using the card fraudulently. Send a letter to the issuer explaining that you do not have the card and would like to cancel it. Be sure to include today's date on the letter and any details of your conversation with the card issuer on the phone. You should also ask the delivery service for a tracking number so you can confirm that your letter is delivered.

The Federal Trade Commission has helpful tips about lost credit and debit cards.

Why You Need to Act Fast

In a worst-case scenario, a thief can use the card to drain your bank account. Even worse, your bills won't stop coming in just because your money was stolen. If your account is fully drained by a thief, then checks will bounce, and you may be unable to fund automatic payments and other purchases. As a result, you could be left paying late penalties, overdraft charges, and other fees.

If you have an overdraft line of credit on your account, scammers may be able to spend more than you have available in your account.

While a thief might try to drain your account, you do have some protections against excessive losses. However, these protections only apply to people who act quickly once they realize something is wrong.

Once you tell the bank that your card is missing, the bank should freeze or cancel the card. After that, there shouldn't be any fraudulent charges on your account, and if there are charges from the lost card, it should be easy to remove them.

If there were charges on the card before you noticed them, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) limits your losses to $50. However, your losses are only limited to $50 if you notify the bank of the fraud within two days of losing your card. If you forget to let the bank know or otherwise wait longer than two days, then your maximum loss increases to $500. If you fail to notify the bank that your card is missing for more than 60 days, then you lose loss protection, and any funds stolen from you will be gone forever.

Banks may choose to be even more forgiving than the law requires, but it's up to the bank's discretion.

Preventing Issues

To prevent another issue with a lost debit card, consider carrying a credit card instead of a debit card for everyday use. Credit cards typically have more robust consumer protection than an account-linked debit card. This allows you to reduce your risk without sacrificing the convenience of card payments.

Article Sources

  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board. "Electronic Fund Transfer Act," Page 12. Accessed Sept. 14, 2020.