It’s a sinking feeling when you first notice a credit card has gone missing, or see charges on your statement you realize are fraudulent. While it may be a headache to get a new credit card and cancel the old one, there’s some comfort in knowing that your liability is limited. As long as you report the card lost or stolen promptly, you should have to pay little or nothing for charges you didn’t make.
Reporting the disappearance of your credit card as quickly as possible limits how much you'll be responsible for paying. Your liability for unauthorized use is limited to $50, and you’re not liable for any charges that take place after reporting the loss. If the card is used by an unauthorized person for the first time only after you’ve reported it missing, you’ll owe nothing at all. You’ll also owe nothing if the thief used the card to make purchases over the Internet or the phone, rather than presenting it in person. Moreover, many card issuers often will waive even that $50 maximum charge.
Quicker Is Better
To be subject only to the $50 liability, you have to report the loss or theft of a credit card within 60 days of receiving the statement on which fraudulent charges appear. Reporting the theft of your credit card quickly helps decrease your headaches. If you wait to report it, issuers may be skeptical that the card was actually stolen. Regardless, the issuer may ask you to sign an affidavit confirming the disputed charges were false before removing them from your account. Call the issuer as soon as you notice the card is missing, and confirm the card’s absence in writing, documenting that initial phone conversation when you report it stolen.
After the Deadline
If you wait longer than 60 days to report a stolen or lost credit card, you can be held liable for the purchases according to federal law. However, credit card issuers have the discretion to go above and beyond the federal legislation, and many will agree to waive charges even if you are late in reporting. This may require some extra effort on your part – the issuer will want to see that you’ve taken reasonable care in securing your card and that you didn’t benefit from its misuse. But if it’s a seldom-used card that you don’t carry in your wallet that you didn’t notice was missing for several months, or if a card were stolen from your apartment while you were on a study-abroad program for many months and you didn't find out until you got back, you may be able to get those charges removed past the federal reporting time limit.
Don't Break the Bank
Your reporting responsibilities have a much faster time line if the missing card is linked to your bank account, as an ATM or debit card. In that case, your liability is limited to $50 only if its loss is reported within two business days. If you wait longer than two days, but within 60 days of receiving a statement showing unauthorized charges, your liability can increase to $500.
- Federal Trade Commission: Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM and Debit Cards
- Nolo.com: Your Liability for Unauthorized Credit and Debit Card Charges
- FindLaw: Are You Responsible for Unauthorized Credit Card Charges?
- MasterCard: Zero Liability Protection for Lost and Stolen Cards
- Bankrate: What Happens if My Credit Card Is Stolen?