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What To Do When Your Credit Card Information is Stolen

I’m making a break from what I normally write about here. It’s only tangentially related to technology, and my interest in security extends beyond the online world, plus I’d like to write this down so I can remember what I’ve learned.
First, here’s the story in a nutshell. About a month ago I received a phone call from my bank about a suspicious purchase on my credit card. They didn’t have a phone number or anything, just a little cryptic text. I cancelled the card immediately. When I called the bank the next day, I asked what I am I supposed to do and they told me to just fill out a dispute form (which I did). A couple days later the charge hit my account, and there was a phone number, so I called it and found it was a big box retail store. I talked to a manager, told them of the charge, they went and found the details on it. At this point I thought I was done. Until last week when the charge appeared on my account again.
Hindsight being what it is, I have a much clearer picture of what needed to happen to make it go more smoothly. I did some Googling, but did not find this information, so I figured I post it.
If you find out your card has been used fraudulently you should do the following:

  1. Cancel Your Credit Card ASAP
  2. File a Police Report
  3. File Dispute Forms with Your Bank
  4. Contact the Merchant
  5. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit

1. Cancel Your Credit Card
The reason for this is obvious: stop the bad guys before they can do any more damage.

2. File a Police Report
This is where I really learned a lot, and why it’s number two (#2) on your to-do list. Obviously if there’s going to be justice in this situation law enforcement needs to be involved. But for me, I don’t care about justice — that’s the merchant’s problem. What I want is the charge take off my account.
As the old adage, it’s not that simple. As far as the merchant is concerned, it was a legitimate charge, and you’re just trying to get something for nothing by disputing the charge. So they are going to continue to fight to get that charge to stick to your account. It was explained to me as, the merchant’s hands are, from a legal perspective, tied — the only thing that’s been stolen is your credit card number, and the store can’t file a report on *your* stolen card.
Once there is a case number from the police, the game changes. Now, the merchant can treat it as theft/fraud. They can release evidence and surveillance tapes to law enforcement, and all that good stuff.
Also, you’re probably going to need to call law enforcement in the jurisdiction the purchase was made. I didn’t know that when I called my local law enforcement. Oh well, it never hurts to ask.

3. File Dispute Forms with Your Bank
Turns out, there may be more to this than what’s on the surface. In my case, I filled out the dispute form, and thought I was done. Much later I found out there was another form that was supposed to be filled out, an “Affidavit of Forgery” as well. The dispute form had an area where I could say the reason for the dispute was lost/stolen card — and I assumed this was enough: WRONG!
In the four or five calls to my financial institution about the dispute form, no one ever mentioned the affidavit of forgery. The form said “Date Lost/Stolen Report Completed” and when I asked what that was, they said it was just when I called them and reported it stolen: WRONG!
The moral of this story is: try to find someone who knows how to handle this situation, apparently your average customer service person may not know all the ins and outs.

4. Contact the Merchant
I don’t really know if this is required or not, but it seems like a good thing to do. I called as soon as I had a number and talked to a manager at the store where the merchandise was picked up. This manager was not very helpful. But later on I talked to other managers which were more helpful.
If the store has a loss prevention team, try to talk to them. I imagine like every crime, the trail is cooling, so maybe they can secure evidence/information right away, or sequester people involved until the police get there.

5. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit
I, personally, think this doesn’t do anything. If some creep has your card number, he can’t open new lines of credit, just exhaust the existing one. But various sources on the Intertubes say you should, and a little extra caution never hurts.

Some other things you can do now would be, collecting phone numbers of the issuing banks and photocopying the cards themselves. I also use Mint, it sends me alerts when things go wonky in my accounts. It’s one extra thing you can do to not wait until the last minute to find a problem.

One Response

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  1. skeletor says

    Good advice overall. Really depends on your financial institution. When my cc number was stolen it was used to make an order from another country, sweden. The phone number is international, so calling them was out of the question. I did go to the website ordered off of and it was in dutch. I still was able to contact them via email, but they require more than just my name and cc number for some reason. they wanted a picture of the transaction. I gave up on staying in touch with the merchant. My credit union sent me the fraud papers and so far the charge is gone.

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