Having your credit card (or card number) stolen can be extremely stressful. If the thief gets your entire wallet, the situation is even worse. The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize your liability and otherwise protect yourself. Here is a quick and easy guide to point you in the right direction.

Contact your card issuer quickly

Immediately call the credit card issuer to report your card stolen. If you don't have the number handy, go online or grab an old credit card statement to get the credit card company's phone number. Be ready with the following information:

  • Verification of identity (name, address, etc.)
  • Account number
  • Best estimate as to when your card was stolen
  • Date of the last purchase you made with your card

Since time is of the essence, don't delay in reporting it. Many companies have a 24-hour number you can call so you don't have an excuse not to call as soon as you find out.

  • MasterCard: (800) MASTERCARD / (800) 627-8372
  • Visa: (800) VISA 911 / (800) 847-2911
  • Discover: (800) DISCOVER / (800) 347-2683
  • American Express: (800) 992-3404

MasterCard, for example, can also provide assistance if you need money while you're waiting for a new card to process. This can come in handy if you're on the road when your wallet gets stolen.

If you need to make purchases or arrange for a cash advance, with your card issuer's approval, you can receive a temporary card the next day in the United States, and within two business days most everywhere else.
Report the crime

Make sure you call the police to file a report. This is an important step, as it affords you additional protection if your stolen card turns into full-blown identity theft. Having a police report can also help you down the line if you have to untangle any problems with your credit report that might arise down the line. Speaking of which... You might also want to consider ordering a credit freeze to prevent any shenanigans. Here are the phone numbers for the three major credit bureaus:

  • Equifax: (800) 685-1111
  • Experian: (888) 397-3742
  • TransUnion: (800) 888-4213

As reminder, please keep all of your documents and file away notes from any conversations as well as all related paperwork and information you receive about the incident. If someone needs a copy, keep the original for yourself.

Protection against unauthorized charges

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects you if your credit card is stolen. Simply report it stolen and, even if unauthorized purchases have already taken place, you'll only be liable for a maximum of $50. If you called before any unauthorized purchases are made, then you won't be liable for any charges. Be sure to double check your credit card benefits, as some companies offer $0 fraud liability. The best time to check is before you need it. If you can't find the relevant paperwork, give you card issuer a call. If you run into any problems, don't hesitate to contact the FTC: FTC Consumer Response Center 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20580 (877) FTC-HELP / (800) 382-4357

Preventing the problem before it happens

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...

  • Don't carry cards that you don't need. If you have several credit cards, keep only one or two in your wallet. Put the rest in a secure location.
  • Only share your credit card information with a trusted source. If you're purchasing online, be very careful with the sites you use.
  • Double check your statements for unexpected charges. If you don't keep tabs of where your card is at all times, at least check your statements. If you notive an unauthorized charge, you can follow up immediately.

Acting quickly and having good records are the key to minimizing the headaches associated with a stolen credit card. Nothing can guarantee that your card won't get lost or stolen, but if you're diligent you minimize the risks. Have you ever had your credit card (or number) stolen? If so, how did you respond? And how did your credit card company handle the situation?