Steps to take if your credit card goes MIA

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If you've ever lost or had your credit card stolen, you probably distinctly recall how worrisome it was when it occurred. Your concern was for good reason. Credit card fraud is continuously on the rise. According to statistics, approximately 31.8 million consumers in the United States were victims of credit card breach in 2014, triple the number of people affected in 2013.

Credit card loss can lead to a lot of frustration if the situation isn't dealt with quickly. The best protection is, first, to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to respond in the event your card goes missing. It's a good idea to take some proactive steps too — this way you're prepared in the event it does happen.

Keep records

A good idea is to keep a running list of your creditors' phone numbers. If you organize your account information, it'll make it easier to report a loss, and your creditor can quickly respond to take corrective action. In this list, you should include the corresponding account numbers and expiration dates. It's also a good idea to keep a photocopy of each credit card and lock it away in a safe place. Remember to update this information periodically since banks often merge or sell off segments of their customer base.

While keeping track of your creditors' contact information and your credit card details is a good start, there is more you can do to protect yourself. If you experience a loss, by taking additional steps you can significantly reduce any potential damage to your credit and limit your monetary loss.

Who to call

As soon as you notice your card is gone, call your creditor immediately. In the United States, according to the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you are only liable for $50 of unauthorized use of your credit card if someone manages to make some purchases before you've reported the card missing (note: debit cards have different rules.) If any charges are made after you report the loss, you are not responsible for those subsequent charges. If you don't report the theft at all, you will be held responsible, so it's important to act quickly.

Next, contact the three primary credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, to let them know what happened. Ask the agencies to place a "Fraud Alert" notation on your credit card accounts. If anyone tries to use your card, this will help safeguard your credit scores and history.

What to do

First, try to recall your steps. Call the stores you visited before losing your card. Retracing where you have been is an important start because going back over your steps may lead you to learn that someone has found your card or turned it in to the merchant.

If you do find your credit card, you'll still want to report it and request a new card because someone may have jotted down the account information displayed on the card and tucked it away for future use. To be on the safe side, it's always best to get a card reissued to protect yourself against someone else fraudulently using your card.

Additionally, send your creditor documentation in writing. It's always also a good idea to follow up on any conversations you've had with your creditor with written correspondence. Include all relevant information and keep records of who you've spoken with, detailing what was said in those conversations. This paper trail after the loss of a credit card may prove valuable if you have troubles with your account at a later date.

Follow up

Check your statements routinely or log on to your online account. Be on the lookout for any unusual activity or purchases you haven't made. If you see something amiss on your bill, contact your creditor in writing and include the date you reported your card missing, then keep a copy of this letter for your records.

Regularly going over your statement is good practice even if your card hasn't gone missing. With the number of data breaches occurring, even if your card is not lost or physically stolen, your information may have been digitally swiped by cyber criminals.

Credit card loss can be frustrating and stressful, but by taking defensive measures and documenting everything as it occurs, you'll protect both yourself and your credit standing. Remember, the faster you deal with it, the less chance of any great harm being done and the sooner you'll find relief.

Not knowing if a stranger has already charged the maximum available credit is an angst-ridden feeling, but if you immediately put a stop to someone potentially using it, the risk factors associated with loss or theft are quickly decreased. The above steps will significantly help reduce the chances of any harm being done to your credit history.

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