May 21, 2022

You’ve Lost Your Debit Card. Now What?

Whether you misplaced your wallet, think you left your card at a bar or fear you’ve been pickpocketed, realizing you can’t account for your debit card can induce panic. Taking quick action can help to ensure no one empties your checking account.

“The maximum potential loss increases drastically if you do not report it either before any loss is incurred or within two business days of realizing that your card has been lost or stolen,” says Erik M. Baskin, founder and financial planner at Baskin Financial Planning in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “Your bank account can definitely be zeroed out if you do not report this loss quick enough.”

What to Do When You’ve Lost Your Debit Card

What should you do first?

  • Freeze or cancel your card. If you have the ability to “freeze” your card (i.e., put it on hold) with your bank’s mobile app, you may want to do that as soon as possible. If you then discover your card was simply misplaced, rather than lost or stolen, you may be able to “unfreeze” it with the same app.
  • Notify your bank or credit union. As soon as you’re reasonably certain you won’t find your card, contact your bank or credit union and request a replacement. Typically, you can do this by phone or by visiting a branch location. Your lost card will be canceled, and it may take up to seven days to receive a new one. If there’s a fee for expedited delivery, you can ask to have it waived as a courtesy.
  • Monitor your account online at least once a day. If you find any fraudulent transactions, notify your bank as soon as possible. Don’t ignore small transactions that you don’t recognize; fraudsters could be testing their ability to access your account.
  • Send a follow-up letter or email to your bank to create a written record. Include the information you provided by phone or in person. Ask your bank to acknowledge receipt electronically or by certified U.S. mail.
  • Update your autopays. Contact any businesses or other entities that you pay with an autopay service connected to your card so you won’t miss a payment and possibly be charged a late fee.

What Is Your Liability for Fraudulent Charges?

How much you could lose as a result of fraudulent charges depends on how soon you notify your bank. If you report your missing or stolen card before any transactions are made, you won’t be responsible for any losses. Report within two days of realizing you don’t have your card, and your total losses are limited by law to $50. Report within 60 calendar days after your bank sends your statement to you, and the cap is $500. After that, there’s no limit on how much you could lose.

“After 60 calendar days, you could be on the hook for all fraudulent charges,” says Elliott Appel, founder and financial planner at Kindness Financial Planning in Madison, Wisconsin. “This is why it’s really important to monitor your transactions and report any fraudulent charges as soon as possible.”

It can take up to 90 days for your bank to research and resolve any fraudulent charges. During that time, you may be given a temporary credit for missing funds.

How Can You Be Safer?

Having a debit card needn’t mean living in constant fear of losing it if you take proper steps to keep it secure.

  • Consider setting up a digital wallet, which lets you make payments or withdraw funds from ATMs with an app on your phone rather than your physical plastic card. With a digital wallet, you don’t have to carry your card with you to use it.
  • Set up alerts on your bank accounts so you’ll be notified whenever a transaction occurs. Alerts can give you an early warning of fraudulent activity.
  • Consider using a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards aren’t directly linked to your checking account. Many come with zero liability for unauthorized transactions.
  • Never share your debit card or card information with anyone you don’t trust. Cyberthieves don’t need to have your card in their possession to use it without your permission.
  • Don’t carry cards you don’t plan to use in your wallet.
  • Be protective of your personal identification number associated with your card. Never write your PIN on anything in your wallet.
  • Review your account online at least once a week to make sure all the charges are valid.

“By taking these steps and remaining vigilant,” Baskin says, “you should be able to detect any fraudulent activity early and ensure that your liability is minimized in the event of a loss or theft of your debit card.”

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