Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to fraud that costs the national economy billions of dollars. If you’re a victim, it can wreak havoc on your personal finances. Lucky for you, many financial institutions have measures in place to help protect you from credit fraud. Because credit card fraud can happen at any time, even when your card is still safely in your wallet, it’s important to check regularly on all your credit card accounts.
If you discover someone has made unauthorized charges on your credit card account, you should:
- Immediately contact the credit card company. Most of them have zero-liability policies, meaning you won’t be responsible for any fraudulent charges made on your accounts. What’s even better is that, the federal law limits your liability for fraudulent credit card charges. If someone uses your lost or stolen credit card before you report it missing to the card issuer, you can only be held responsible for $50 of any fraudulent charge. If you report the loss before the card is used, you’re not responsible for any charges, nor are you liable if it’s just the card number that’s stolen and used.
- Change your online passwords and PINs immediately to prevent fraudsters from doing any further damage.
- Closely monitor your account activity, and put an initial security alert on your credit report. This can be especially helpful if you’re not sure how your information was compromised. Whichever credit bureau you contact it will notify the other two major bureaus of your request.
- Keep an eye on your bank statements, and if you notice signs of fraud, notify your bank immediately.
- Request a copy of your credit report. Often, signs of fraud, such as new accounts you don’t recognize, will show up on credit card statements first, soon to follow on your credit reports. When you request a fraud alert, you will also get a copy of your credit report.
If you believe you’re a victim of identity theft (e.g., someone opened a credit card in your name), follow all the steps above, plus:
- Add a fraud alert to your credit report by visiting a fraud center.
- If you find fraudulent accounts or inquiries on your credit report, contact each creditor directly to make them aware of the fraud.
- Consider reporting the theft by filing a police report and document all contacts you make with credit bureaus, creditors and authorities regarding the crime. You can also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, which separately tracks identity crimes.
- If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, immediately notify your bank and credit card companies. You should never carry your Social Security card with you, but in case it’s lost or stolen, contact the Social Security Administration and consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report.