The Scale of Credit Card Fraud in the U.S.

In today's digital world, credit card fraud and ID theft continue to rise. In fact, according to Experian, one of the three main credit monitoring companies in the U.S., credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft.

The Identity Theft Resource Center released a report that stated that the number of credit card numbers exposed in 2017 totaled 14.2 million, up 88% over 2016.

What to Do If Credit Card Theft Happens to You

In the event that your credit card is stolen in the United States, federal law limits the liability of cardholders to $50, regardless of the amount charged on the card by the unauthorized user. In today's world of electronic fraud, if just the credit card account number itself is stolen, federal law guarantees that the cardholder has a zero liability to the issuer. Numerous credit card companies have also adopted a zero liability policy, which means the consumer is not held responsible for any fraudulent charges at all. The terms and conditions of your cardholder agreement often spell out the details.

As a cardholder, you should notify the issuer immediately if you notice that your credit card is missing or stolen. This early notification will give the issuer time to help you with the following:

  1. Verify if and where fraud has occurred.
  2. Remove unauthorized charges from your credit card account.
  3. Close down your account to prevent future fraudulent charges.
  4. Issue you a new card and account number.

You should also check with the three major credit reporting agencies and obtain a copy of your credit report to be sure that nothing else has been accessed fraudulently.

Be Wary of Credit Card Protection Offers

This type of insurance is unnecessary because of the federal limits in place. But scam artists try to sell $200-300 credit card insurance by falsely claiming that cardholders face significant financial risk if their cards are misused. The Federal Trade Commission estimates over 3.3 million consumers have purchased unnecessary insurance to prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards.

Vigorously Monitor Your Reports

A great way to monitor activity on your accounts is to order your credit reports for each credit card reporting company. In fact, federal law states you are allowed one free credit report per year, but if your card has ever been stolen, you may be able to get your reports for free more frequently. Some experts recommend ordering one report every four months, in essence staggering requests via each of the main companies. This is a great way to keep a lookout for fraud. A weekly or monthly check-in of credit activity via your card's main website can also provide insight into any potential fraudulent activity.

The Bottom Line

Remember, if someone steals your card and rings up hundreds of dollars in charges, you are not on the hook, although it can take time to sort out the charges and get reimbursed. Make sure to contact your credit card company as soon as the fraudulent charges are discovered, and make sure to monitor your credit report and other cards to ensure nothing else, like another card, has been stolen too.

If you are lucky and never been a victim, take immediate steps to make yourself less susceptible to credit card thieves. Order your annual credit card reports, monitor your bills and charges, and always take the time to call your credit card company if anything suspicious shows up.