Here's What to Do If Your Credit or Debit Card Is Stolen

Be especially careful with your debit card and online purchases, which are increasingly targets for crooks.

The Problem

A criminal who gets your credit or debit card number can rack up big charges.

Scare Factor

(Image credit: Thinkstock)

If your credit card number is used fraudulently, you will have to get a new card with a new number, but at least the criminals aren’t spending your money. Legally, you’re respon­sible for no more than $50 in liability for credit card fraud, but all of the major payment networks (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa) promise zero liability.

How to Combat: Stolen Social Security Number | Medical ID Theft | Tax Identity Fraud | Lost/Stolen Electronics

Armed with your debit card or bank account information, however, a thief could drain your checking account. Theft of debit card data at ATMs, which often involves criminals attaching devices to the machines to “skim” card data, has reached the highest level in 20 years, says FICO, developer of the most commonly used credit score among lenders. As the U.S. payment system transitions to microchip technology, crooks will have a harder time intercepting usable data from payment transactions because the information in chip transactions is repeatedly re-encrypted. As a result, fraud will likely shift to an easier target: use of card numbers to make fraudulent purchases online.

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How to Avoid It

Arrange with your credit card issuers and bank to receive e-mail or text-message alerts when there are transactions higher than a certain amount—say, $100—or your account balances reach a certain minimum amount. Check your accounts at least weekly to look for suspicious transactions. Watch especially for amounts of $10 or less; crooks often test the authenticity of card numbers by first making small purchases. When you swipe your debit or credit card at an ATM or gas pump, look for an attachment to the card reader, and shield your hand as you enter the PIN in case there’s a hidden camera. Use a bank ATM whenever possible, says Levin.

What to Do If You’re a Victim:

Call your card issuer or bank as soon as you see suspicious activity on your account. With your bank account, as long as you give prompt notification, you likely won’t be responsible for covering the charges, but you may have to wait until the bank processes your claim to get a refund. By law, your debit card liability could be unlimited if you wait more than 60 days from the date of the fraudulent activity to report it. But many banks have policies to protect debit card customers.

How to Combat: Stolen Social Security Number | Medical ID Theft | Tax Identity Fraud | Lost/Stolen Electronics

Lisa Gerstner
Editor, Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine

Lisa has been the editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance since June 2023. Previously, she spent more than a decade reporting and writing for the magazine on a variety of topics, including credit, banking and retirement. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.