Knowing your credit card information has gotten into the hands of a criminal can be scary. Thankfully credit card companies have a number of measures in place to protect you if your card or card number is stolen. In most cases the company and the authorities investigate purchases made with stolen cards.
It’s important to report your credit card has been stolen as soon as you notice it's gone. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act you’re only liable for a maximum of $50 of unauthorized charges to your account. If you report the theft before the criminal uses the card you’re not responsible for any unauthorized charges. Report the loss by calling your credit card issuer. You’ll also need to file a police report so the authorities can start investigating. The report will probably need to be filed in the jurisdiction where the card was stolen.
The Federal Trade Commission recommends sending the card issuer a certified letter confirming that you reported the credit card as lost. It’s important to keep detailed records containing copies of all the letters you send and receive regarding the case. Take note of all the dates you made calls and sent letters in case you need to reference them later. Keep on top of the situation to make sure your case is being handled thoroughly.
Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- to place an initial 90-day fraud alert on your account. The credit reporting agency you contact is required by law to notify the other two. If there's an attempt to open a new credit account in your name, increase your credit limit on an existing account or get a new card for an existing account, additional steps are taken to make sure you authorized the request and not the thief.
While there’s no sure way to avoid credit card theft, you can take action to lower your chances of being victimized again. Don’t carry all your cards when you go out, just the ones you need. Never use a suspicious-looking sales terminal as there could be a skimming device attached to it waiting to steal your card number. Watch cashiers closely at the register -- anyone who takes too long to complete a normal transaction may be using a device to capture your card number. Make certain the card is returned to you and check to be sure it's yours.
Laura Woods is a Los Angeles-based writer with more than six years of marketing experience. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Robert Morris University.