Help, My Credit Card Was Stolen!

shutterstock_169108877A study by Unisys found that credit and debit card fraud topped American Security concerns in 2014. 59% of Americans polled were seriously concerned about other people obtaining or using their credit or debit card details, up from 52% in 2013.   No doubt this uptick in concern comes on the heels of the much-publicized hacking of consumer credit card data from Target and Neiman Marcus stores over the 2013-2014 holiday season. What about when physical cards are stolen? I just went through this ordeal myself in November of 2013 while traveling for business and feel my story well illustrates the best way to deal with stolen cards.

On the first night of my weeklong trip, I stopped for dinner and a beer at a local eatery in Oakland, California and hung my purse over the back of my seat. Big mistake – someone stole my purse right off my chair. The restaurant, the Tribune Tavern, will have my undying gratitude – they waived the cost of my meal since I had no money. (I’m sure they felt bad someone had robbed me in their establishment.)


It’s an awful feeling: you’re in a strange city with no money, no ID, no credit cards – and stolen rental car keys – they were in my purse. Fortunately, I had my phone out on the bar in front of me when my purse was taken or I would really have been stranded. I was able to call the rental car company and have them bring me a new set of keys – at a cost of $200 charged to the card I used when picking up the car at the rental center.

I had already paid online for my hotel room online or I would have been out on the street that night. I explained the situation to the hotel clerk and they allowed me to check into the hotel without ID or a credit card.

After getting to my room, I immediately started calling to cancel my credit and debit cards (4 credit, 2 debit). I had my laptop with me and was able to look up all the customer service numbers.  I spent two hours on the phone informing the banks of the situation. The thieves had been busy – not much time had past since I had been robbed and already many hundreds of dollars had been charged to the stolen cards, but all the banks assured me I wouldn’t be responsible. Chase Bank even agreed to send me a new card within 2 days to my hotel – surprising, since it wasn’t the address on file. I arranged to have the rest of them mailed to my home address within the customary 5 to 10 business days.

The next day I went to Bank of America to see if I could get a temporary debit card. Getting a new card wasn’t possible, but to my surprise, they allowed me to withdraw money from my account without ID – I was able to correctly answer security questions.   I made it the rest of the week by using the cash I had withdrawn and the credit card delivered to my hotel. I even managed to make it through security at the airport on the way home with only a credit card for ID. Apparently, it happens all the time – travelers without ID get patted down and searched extra carefully in this post 9-11 world, but they get through.

Your Liability for Stolen Credit and Debit Card Charges

All in all, over $700 was charged to my credit cards before I was able to cancel them. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) governs the liability of stolen credit card charges. Under the FCBA, you are not responsible for any charges made after a card is reported as stolen. The good news: most big banks have a zero liability policy. Indeed, I was not held liable for any of the charges despite the fact that many were made before I reported the card stolen. Note: If your credit card number is stolen but not the physical card, you are not held liable under the FCBA for any charges before or after a card is reported.

The rules for debit cards are different, governed by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). If you report the stolen debit card within two days, your maximum liability under the EFTA will be $50. If you wait longer than two days, your maximum liability will be $500. After 60 days, you will be liable for all charges. I was lucky – the thieves did not use my debit cards, so I was not out any money.

File a Police Report


Capital One insisted that I file a police report about my stolen purse and sent me paperwork to fill out after I returned home. I did so immediately – I wanted to make sure I wasn’t liable for the $134 sushi dinner that was fraudulently charged to my Capital One card. I was able to file a report at the Oakland police department online.

I had an additional motivating factor for filing a report besides Capital One’s request: I knew a police report could come in handy later. Since my ID was stolen along with my cards, it would be quite possible for the thieves to try and open new accounts in my name. In such a case of identity theft, a police report will help straighten out any potential future mess. Credit bureaus and collection agencies will often remove fraudulent information promptly from your credit report if you produce a police report. If someone does wind up stealing your identity to open a new account, it’s policy: the bank will ask for the police report.

According the Federal Trade Commission, credit card theft accounts for 26% of all reported identity theft cases.

Charges Made After the Card Is Reported Stolen

Even after you report your card stolen and the card is canceled, charges can still come through. My Capital One card was used successfully a week after I reported the theft even though the card was supposedly canceled. Over the next two months, I had to call Capital One twice to get that charge removed from my account. It’s always important to monitor your statements carefully, but keep an extra watchful eye on your account in the months following a case of theft to make sure that you don’t have a nasty surprise.

The Moral(s) of the Story

People are kind; I say this even though I was the victim of a crime. I was treated well and sympathetically when dealing with rental car companies, the restaurant where the theft happened, banks and even airport security. Three months after the incident, a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) employee found my purse on the transit tracks and mailed it to my home at his own expense.

I learned the power and value of plastic but found out you can survive in this world without it.

Never hang your purse over the back of your chair in public.

Thieves act fast, so it’s important to report your missing cards immediately.

Banks are efficient at dealing with fraud: they are on the hook for unauthorized charges and will cancel your cards and issue new ones promptly.

Don’t travel with more than 2 credit cards – one back up card is all you need.

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