Lost Your Credit Card? Take These Crucial Steps to Protect Yourself from Fraud

While consumers may think their credit card is safe from thieves, a false sense of security could lull consumers right into a huge financial impact. In case you have your credit card stolen or simply believe your card is missing, a lost credit card could put you on the hook for fraudulent purchases and even pave the way for identity theft.

Though consumers often think they misplaced their credit cards, theft is a real scenario to look into. You may have had your wallet stolen or even had your financial information exposed during a data breach, which is becoming more common. Whether you think you'll find your card later on or if it's gone for good, it's important to guard yourself against fraud.

Here are steps to take to protect yourself:

Contact Your Bank and Credit Card Company
Credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard and banks have phone lines open 24 hours a day in order for consumers to speak with a customer service representative and report stolen or lost cards. Before you call, be sure to have key information ready to tell the credit card firm or bank, such as your financial statements. A customer rep may ask you when you discovered you no longer had the card to establish a timeline for the incident. The rep may also transfer you to another department that specifically handles credit card fraud. As you speak with the bank or credit card company, give as much detail as you can about your situation and whether you have noticed potential fraudulent charges.

Realize Time is Money
The time between you finding out about your lost or stolen credit card and contacting the appropriate credit card issuers is crucial. If you report your credit card is missing before the credit card is used by a would-be thief, you do not have to pay for transactions that took place when you did not possess the card. However, if the thief did make purchases before you were able to reach the credit card company, federal consumer protection laws can help mitigate your financial losses. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) states that you are liable for up to $50 of fraudulent purchases.

Some credit card companies, such as Discover, also allow you to freeze your account activity, which could block thieves from ringing up unauthorized charges.

Add a Fraud Alert On Your Credit Report
When you are concerned you may become a victim of credit card fraud from a lost card, you can protect your financials and your credit history further by implementing a fraud alert through the three main credit reporting bureaus, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The purpose of a fraud alert is to stop thieves from using your information to obtain new lines of credit by requiring creditors to check in with you about the account before they approve anyone for new credit.

The FTC recommends that you call one of the companies to request a free fraud alert on your report. After you place the fraud alert, the company will usually notify the two other bureaus about it. The alert will last for 90 days and you could extend this if you choose after the initial time-period is up.

Monitor Your Card Statements and Credit Report
Consumers are often concerned about the impact credit card theft may have on their current financials, which is why it's important to regularly check your credit card statements. While you could wait to look over paper statements issued every two weeks, or every month or so, online banking also has its advantages in fighting fraud fast. As transactions are often posted in real time on online banking sites, you can quickly determine whether your card was used without your knowledge.

When reviewing your statements, look for anything that may indicate credit card fraud, such as the card being used in a different state or location, or transactions taking place in stores you haven't shopped at recently.

You should also ask to receive a copy of your credit report to determine whether someone has obtained your information and is using it to apply for new lines of credit.

Follow Up With Suspicious Activity
If you see any signs that your credit card was used for fraudulent purposes, immediately contact your payment card company. They typically have procedures in place to reimburse you for credit card purchases made without your authorization.

You can also be proactive in taking control of your account by calling the company and requesting an account transfer to begin closing any accounts affected by theft.

Wait For Your Replacement Credit Card
Often banks and credit card companies will reissue cards that have been lost or stolen at no charge to you. They may also replace cards that are associated with records exposed during a data breach. After you report your card is affected, a customer rep may ask you to confirm your mailing address for a new card. Businesses may have your replacement card delivered in fewer than seven business days.