credit & debt

Lock Your Credit Card If It Goes Missing

Locking — rather than cancelling — a card, will block purchases and other ways a thief could hurt you, while still allowing recurring payments and similar conveniences to carry on unaffected.

Canceling and replacing a lost debit or credit card can be a hassle. After the new card arrives in the mail, you need to update every retailer, streaming service or utility provider that relies on your card number for payments. Now, many banks and credit card issuers are adding the option of temporarily “locking” your card instead, in case you want to buy some time to search for your card.

A lock can be an on/off switch in the bank’s app or on its website, or it can be a more sophisticated feature that allows you to specify, say, the locations or the types of transactions that are approved for your card. A lock will typically prevent new purchases, ATM activity, cash advances and balance transfers, but it will allow automatic or recurring payments, returns, credits and dispute adjustments. For extra security, you can also turn a card “off” that you are leaving behind while on vacation. Most issuers allow indefinite locks, though American Express lifts a lock after seven days.

You should lock your card as soon as you notice it’s gone or find an unfamiliar charge, then investigate further before contacting your bank, says David Keenan, senior vice president in card products at Fiserv, a financial technology company that has a locking and alert app called CardValet (available at Fiserv partner banks). If you can’t find your card, notify your issuer. Most issuers will send you a new card free, but they may charge a fee for rush deliveries.

If you’re waiting for a new debit card to arrive and need to withdraw cash, a bank branch may provide you with a temporary debit card on the spot. Some issuers also help you update merchants with your new card number. American Express will allow most recurring payments to go through seamlessly. Bank of America may provide your new card number to merchants with whom you have recurring payments, and Wells Fargo’s Control Tower tool will show you a list of merchants with whom you’ve had recurring transactions within the past 12 months.

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