What to Do When Your Credit Card Is Lost or Stolen

A lost wallet open and lying in the grass
••• © Snap Decision / Creative RF / Getty

Credit cards rank pretty high on the list of things you hate to lose—somewhere between your kids and car keys. A lost or stolen credit card isn't just inconvenient. It has the potential to cause plenty of damage, especially if you have a high credit limit or a lot of available credit. The last thing you want is damage to your credit at someone else’s hand, so it’s crucial that you know what to do when your credit card has been lost or stolen.

Report Your Lost Credit Card Immediately

When you realize you have lost your card, your first priority is to prevent a thief from using it. Don't wait; call your credit card issuer as soon as you notice your card is missing.

Normally you'd find your credit card issuer's number on the back of your credit card. Of course, that's not an option if your credit card is missing. Instead, look for your credit card issuer's phone number on a copy of your credit card statement. If you have online access for your credit card, you may be able to use the website to report your missing credit card. Just make sure you use your credit card issuer's true website and not an imposter site.

When you contact your creditor, you should have the following information:

  • Your account number (your creditor can look up your account using your Social Security number if you don't have it)
  • The date you noticed your card was missing
  • The date and amount of your last purchase, if you know it

Some credit card issuers can expedite a replacement card to you, even if you're traveling internationally. There may be a fee for this service.

After you’ve contacted the card issuer by phone, it can be helpful to follow up with a letter stating that your credit card was lost or stolen. Include the last four digits of your account number, date of loss or theft, the first date the loss was reported, and the last authorized transaction. This letter provides proof that you reported the loss and the time of the report, should that fact ever come into question.

Deal With Unauthorized Charges

When fraudulent transactions are made on your credit card, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects you and limits your liability. Under federal law, if unauthorized charges are made with your missing credit card, the maximum amount you can be liable for is $50. If the charges are made after you report the card as lost or stolen, you have no liability. That’s why it’s important to report your missing credit card as soon as possible.

You are not liable for any charges made using only your credit card information if you still have your credit card in your possession.

Many credit card issuers have a zero-fraud liability protection benefit that eliminates your liability for any fraudulent charges as long as you report the card missing within a certain period of time. Ask your creditor if such a benefit applies to your account.

Once you report your lost card, your credit card issuer will freeze the account and issue you a new card with a new number. Still, it's a good idea to review your billing statement for a few months after the loss to make sure you don't miss any unauthorized charges made using your credit card. If you see any charges that you did not make, report them to your creditor immediately.

Prevent Future Loss

Of course, the best way to avoid problems is not to lose your card. Here are a few steps to protect your credit card from being lost or stolen in the future:

  • Know where your credit cards are at all times. Carry the credit cards that you’ll need and leave the others at home in a secure place. Check periodically to make sure you still have all your credit cards.
  • Place your credit cards in a wallet or purse rather than directly into your pocket where it's easier for them to slip out.
  • Make sure your cards fit snugly inside the slots of your wallet. If the slots have become loose or worn, consider purchasing a new, stiffer wallet that will hold your credit cards securely in place.
  • If your credit cards are inside a wallet or bag, always keep it closed and close to you. The FBI once prosecuted a thief who crawled under movie theater seats to steal credit cards from women's purses.
  • Create a contact list including the name and number of all your card issuers. Store the list in a safe place so that you can easily reach your card issuers if a credit card is lost or stolen in the future. You don't have to write your credit card numbers on the list—and it's probably safer not to write the full number—since your card issuer can typically locate your account using other personal information.

Once you receive your new card, don't forget to update any of your online accounts with the new credit card info. Otherwise, you may risk having transactions declined and services suspended.