CNBC Select may receive an affiliate commission when you click on the links for products from our partners. Click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.
CNBC Select

5 steps to take immediately if your credit card is lost or stolen

CNBC Select breaks down the steps you can take if your credit card information is stolen and how you can limit your exposure to fraud.

Getty Images

Credit card fraud happens every day, but it's especially prevalent during times of economic hardship. You should consistently take steps to protect your credit so you minimize the chance that you'll become a victim of fraud.

If you find that your card number has been stolen, it's important that you act fast to safeguard your credit card information and alert your card issuer that your account has been compromised.

Below, CNBC Select breaks down the steps you can take if your credit card information is stolen and how you can limit your exposure to fraud.

How to report credit card fraud

  1. Contact your credit card issuer
  2. Change your login information
  3. Monitor your credit card statement
  4. Review your credit report and dispute any fraud on it
  5. Protect yourself from future credit card fraud

1. Contact your credit card issuer

Once you suspect fraud on your credit card account, you should immediately contact your card issuer by calling the number on the back of your card. While you're waiting to speak to a representative, check online or via your issuer's mobile app to see if you can lock or freeze access to your card. This prevents someone from completing future transactions with your card.

When you speak to a representative, tell them that your account was compromised and list the fraudulent transactions. The bank will cancel the card (this doesn't mean your account is closed) and mail you a new card with a new account number, expiration date and security code.

The new card may take up to 10 days to arrive in the mail, though you may be able to ask for expedited delivery, which may come at a fee. While you wait to receive your new card, you won't be able to use the old one since it was canceled.

After canceling your card and shipping out a new one, your card issuer will begin an investigation and typically issue a provisional credit for the charges you said were fraudulent. This credit will become permanent if the investigation determines the disputed charges weren't authorized by you.

2. Change your login information

If you're a victim of credit card fraud — regardless if it was your actual card that was stolen or just your account number — you should change your username, password and PIN to prevent further fraud. This can prevent fraudsters from accessing your information and further secure your account. And if you realize specific online accounts were hacked, such as you Amazon.com account, be sure to change that login information too.

3. Monitor your credit card statement

After you report fraud to your card issuer, regularly sign into your online account and check that you received the refund for the fraudulent charges and there are no new signs of fraud.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) your maximum liability for unauthorized charges is $50. For instance, if someone makes $100 in fraudulent charges with your card, you can only be required to pay $50. However, most major banks, such as Citi and Chase, offer $0 liability on unauthorized charges.

Once your billing cycle closes and you receive your credit card statement, double check that the information listed is up to date. Verify the details of each transaction, such as the merchant, size of purchase and date, as well as you overall balance and any payments you've made toward your balance or credits you've received (such as a refund for unauthorized charges).

4. Review your credit report and dispute any fraud on it

After reviewing your credit card account information, you should request your credit reports from all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). The bureaus are now offering free credit reports to all Americans on a weekly basis at AnnualCreditReport.com through April 2021.

Unnoticed fraudulent activity on your credit card account may appear on your credit report, so it's key to check if the information listed is accurate. For instance, you may be unaware that someone racked up charges on a credit card you haven't used in a while. If the charges pile up and remain unpaid because you're unaware there's a fraudulent balance, the missed payment and balance information may appear on your credit report, which may cause your credit score to decrease.

But if you caught the unauthorized charges early and informed your card issuer, there's no harm done to your credit score. That's thanks to the FCBA, which states creditors can't report unpaid fraudulent charges as delinquent.

For these reasons, you should dispute errors with the credit bureaus as soon as possible. Submitting a dispute has no affect on your credit score. It takes roughly 30 to 45 days for a dispute to be resolved, then you can expect to see the update within another 30 days. Thankfully, you can request and monitor your credit reports for free every week through April 2021, which allows you to regularly check the status of the update(s). Once the fraudulent activity is removed from your credit report, your score will likely increase, depending on the significance of the fraud.

5. Protect yourself from future credit card fraud

Whether you've been a victim of fraud or not, you should follow the steps below to be proactive and reduce future chances of card theft.

  1. Monitor your credit card accounts: A key step to spotting fraud early is to regularly monitor your credit card accounts online or in your bank's mobile app. Aim to monitor your accounts every day, but at least once a week is a good start.
  2. Sign up for transaction alerts: Many card issuers allow you to set alerts for transactions that exceed a certain limit, if purchases were made internationally or if balance transfers were made to your account. It's a good idea to set these up so you can be alerted of possible fraud.
  3. Freeze your credit: If you want to prevent fraudsters from opening accounts in your name, freeze your credit reports with all three credit bureaus.
  4. Check your credit score: There are dozens of free credit score resources from sites like Experian that allow you to track updates to your score. If you notice a drop in your credit score, that may be an indication of fraud.
  5. Consider credit monitoring services: There are free and paid credit monitoring services, such as CreditWise® from Capital One and IdentityForce®, that can provide you with early notice of potential fraud on your credit report. This allows you to take steps to protect your personal information. If you want to learn more about how credit monitoring works and free and paid services, check out CNBC Select's list of the best credit monitoring services.
  6. Secure your physical cards: If you have multiple credit cards or cards that you no longer use, make sure they're in a safe place, such as a lock box or safe. And the cards you currently carry should remain with you at all times.
  7. Limit who you give your credit card number to: You should limit the situations where you give out your credit card number to calls that you initiate. If someone calls asking for your card number, you should be wary and not provide it.
  8. Don't write down your passwords: If you're like most people, you have dozens of online accounts and more than one bank account. That adds up to a lot of passwords to keep track of and your first instinct may be to write them down — but don't. A better idea is to store them in a secure password manager, such as LastPass or 1Password. Both can be accessed online and with a mobile app.
  9. Be wary of advertisements: While ads boasting limited-time offers or large discounts can be tempting, they may not always be from a reliable site. Before you click on any ad, first verify the source.
  10. Don't use public Wi-Fi: While free, public Wi-Fi can be tempting, it's unsecure. As a result, you shouldn't complete online transactions while using it. Switch to cellular data if you need to make a purchase outside your home and wait until you're in a private area.
  11. Only pay on sites with "https": Before you make an online transaction, verify that the URL begins with "https" and that there's a small lock icon that confirms it's a secure site.

Bottom line

While there's no way to prevent credit card fraud from happening, it's important to be proactive and act fast against possible fraud. If you spot fraud early and quickly report it, you can save yourself some time and stress. You should also follow the actions listed above so you can limit the chances that your credit card information is stolen.

Don't miss:

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.