You misplaced your wallet. You left your credit card in the bank machine. An online scammer duped you into giving them your credit card information. With each of these stressful life events, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Learn what to do if your credit card is lost or stolen.
Your liability for a lost or stolen credit card is limited
If someone runs up charges on your lost or stolen credit card, you may be on the hook for some of it. Luckily, the law in BC limits the damage. Once you report a missing card to your credit card issuer, you’re no longer responsible for any new charges made on the card after you’ve made your report.
If someone uses the card before you report it as missing, the maximum amount you’re legally liable for is $50. (There is one exception to this rule: where your credit card is used at an automated teller machine with your personal identification number; this exception is explained below.)
You can report the missing card to your issuer by phone or by mail. Most major banks and credit unions have a dedicated number you can call to report a lost or stolen credit card.
If someone steals your credit card and buys something before you notice and report the theft, the most you’ll be legally on the hook for is $50. Ask your credit card issuer if they’ll waive even that $50 minimum. Many will say yes. For them, it’s good customer relations!
Your cardholder agreement must disclose your maximum liability
Under BC law, a credit card issuer must tell you your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card if it’s lost or stolen. This information must be set out in the contract (called the “cardholder agreement”). Usually, the details will be displayed in an information box at the beginning of the agreement. See our guidance on getting a credit card.
Even if your cardholder agreement sets your maximum liability at a higher figure, the law limits your liability to $50. If someone goes on a shopping spree with your lost or stolen credit card, the law says your maximum liability is $50. You’ll never have to pay more than that (except in one circumstance, explained in the next section).
Your liability if your credit card is used at an ATM
There’s one exception to the rule limiting your liability to $50 for authorized use of a lost or stolen credit card. The law limiting your liability doesn’t cover situations where your credit card is used at an automated teller machine (ATM) with your personal identification number (PIN).
So, say you lend your credit card to a friend. She visits a nearby ATM. Without your permission (but using the PIN number you gave her), she withdraws $500 as a cash advance from your credit card account. In this case, you are responsible for the entire $500.
Although it may seem convenient, giving away or sharing your PIN is never a good idea. Take care to protect your PIN when you use your credit card in public (and avoid using a guessable PIN, such as your birthdate). Here are tips for preventing credit card fraud, from the Canadian Bankers Association.
Ask your credit card issuer about chip technology and contactless payment. Credit cards with these features are much more secure than cards that use a magnetic stripe.
Step 1. Report the lost or stolen card to the issuer
Contact the credit card issuer as soon as possible if:
- you notice unusual activity on your credit card account
- you suspect someone may have gotten hold of your account information
- you lose your wallet or credit card
You aren’t liable for any charges made to the account after you report the loss to the issuer. See “Understand your legal rights”, above.
If you deal with a major bank or credit union, visit their website and check if they have a number to call to report lost or stolen cards. In most cases, the issuer will cancel the lost or stolen card and send you a new one free of charge.
Step 2. Report the incident to the police
If your credit card has been stolen, it’s a good idea to file a report with the police. Getting the authorities involved may lead to charges being laid against the thief.
Step 3. Contact the credit reporting agencies
Discuss with them whether to have a “fraud alert” placed on your file. A fraud alert means that businesses or banks will call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.
If someone has already run up charges on the card, consider adding an explanation to your credit report. That way, anyone who looks at your credit report will know that those purchases aren’t yours. See our guidance on fixing a mistake on your credit report.
Keep records of your contact with the credit card issuer, the police and the credit reporting agencies. It’s a good idea to make notes of who you spoke with, when you spoke with them, and the context of the conversation (for example, how long it’s been since you noticed the card was missing).
Step 4. Destroy associated cards and cheques
Destroy any other cards or cheques connected to the account of the missing credit card. If you had online access to the credit card account, cancel the access. If you used the credit card for automatic billing with any service providers, notify the providers.
Step 5. Follow up with consumer agencies
If you think someone may have stolen your credit card information through a scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. The Centre collects information about fraud and identity theft in Canada. They don’t conduct investigations but they do help law enforcement agencies by identifying connections among seemingly unrelated cases. If you report the scam, it may prevent others from being ripped off by the scam operator.
Also consider reporting the scam to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker. Reporting the scam helps the BBB investigate and warn others about the scam.
What should I do with my old credit card statements?
It’s a good idea to compare your monthly statements of account to your credit card receipts. (It’s important to keep your purchase receipts to make this comparison.) If you don’t recognize a transaction on your statement, contact the business that’s charging you.
Once you’ve checked your receipts against your credit card statements, shred the statements before throwing them away. That way no one will be able to get your account number by digging through your trash.
What if I find my credit card after I’ve reported it missing?
Contact your credit card issuer right away. If the account hasn’t been cancelled yet, you may be able to continue using the card. Your issuer will be able to advise you.
If the account has already been cancelled, destroy the old card. (Tempting though it may be to use it as a car windshield scraper.) Throw away the bits in different places so no one will be able to piece together the card number. If it’s a chip card, make sure you destroy the chip (cut it up into pieces).