5 Ways to Avoid Losing Your Credit Cards – and What to Do When It Happens Anyway

5 Ways to Avoid Losing Your Credit Cards – and What to Do When It Happens Anyway
Photo (cc) by 401(K) 2012

According to a recent report from CNBC, PNC Bank has found that the number of lost credit cards typically rises 19 percent during the holidays. It turns out that during this time of year, people are more likely to be traveling and rushing around, so they’re more likely to misplace their plastic. This comes as no surprise to me, since my wife just reported one of our cards as lost over the weekend.

Here are five ways that you can keep track of your cards, and another three steps to take when your card is lost or stolen…

How to keep your cards secure

  1. Always know where your cards are. I prefer to keep two or three cards that I use the most in my wallet at all times. The rest of them are in a separate, secure place. Of course, you should never leave your wallet or purse unattended, even for a few seconds.
  2. Don’t share your card numbers or PINs. It can be tempting to give out this information over the phone or via email to someone who needs to make a purchase for you. Unfortunately, this information can be intercepted electronically or by just reading off a piece of paper it was copied on. If you trust someone enough to give out your credit card number, you can just make that person an authorized user on your account. Otherwise, keep your card numbers to yourself.
  3. Be sure to get your card back after purchases. It sounds obvious, but I’ve lost many cards like this. Sometimes I’m able to retrace my steps and contact the merchant I left it with, but other times it’s gone for good. Be especially careful at restaurants, since it’s easy to miss your card hidden under a receipt.
  4. Keep your card in sight when it’s being used for a transaction. Don’t wander away when you hand your card to the clerk at a store – you never want to give the wrong person the opportunity to copy its information. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible at most restaurants, a fact that was recently highlighted when The New York Times reported on a massive credit card fraud ring that was being run by waiters at a Manhattan steakhouse.
  5. Scrutinize every statement. In the New York case, perpetrators are alleged to have made small charges to stolen credit cards in order to determine if account holders would notice the fraudulent charges. Only then did they attempt to make larger transactions. By closely examining each line of your statements, you can respond to all unauthorized charges no matter how small.

Even if you take every precaution, you will probably have one of your credit cards lost or stolen sooner or later – we’re only human. When it happens to you, here are the steps you need to take…

  1. Call your bank immediately. Once you report your card lost or stolen, a replacement should be immediately sent out. In many cases, banks will even overnight the new card to customers upon request – and at no charge. This was our experience during the week when my wife misplaced one of her cards.
  2. If the card is stolen, file a police report. This is a smart step to take, and one that can be surprisingly easy. Many municipalities allow citizens to quickly file reports such as these online.
  3. Notify other authorized users. With some banks, a single lost or stolen card will require the replacement of the cards for all authorized users. In these cases, you should advise the other cardholders on your account to destroy their cards while they await replacements from the bank.

Lost and stolen credit cards can be a hassle, but unlike cash, customers almost never suffer any monetary loss. In these cases, federal law limits cardholder losses to $50 – although most banks have a written or de facto zero-liability policy.

This law has only one catch: In order to be protected, any unauthorized charges must be reported within 60 days of a customer receiving their statement. By taking the proper precautions before losing a card and the right steps afterwards, you can be assured that your credit card is always the safest way to pay.

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