What Is a Card Recovery Bulletin?

A card recovery bulletin is a paper listing of lost, stolen, past-due, over-limit, counterfeit, or otherwise problem cards published by credit card companies such as Visa or MasterCard. Merchants will review the list to discover if a credit card seems suspicious or not. 

Key Takeaways

  • A card recovery bulletin is a pre-digital era method for merchants to learn whether a suspicious credit card has been stolen, is over-limit, or is a problem in other ways.
  • Major credit card companies publish the bulletin, which is distributed to merchants as a way to alert them of suspicious cards.
  • In the digital era, a merchant is more likely to check electronic records for the validity of a card, as those records are updated continuously.
  • However, credit card companies continue to distribute card recovery bulletins, mostly for the benefit of non-U.S. merchants that might lack electronic access.

Understanding a Card Recovery Bulletin

Card issuers publish card recovery bulletinsalso known as cancellation bulletins, hot card lists, or restricted card listsbut they are typically used by non-U.S. merchants that lack computer or internet access. Such bulletins were used by U.S. merchants on a regular basis before the digital era.

Nowadays, merchants are more likely to check electronic lists of illicit or problem credit cards. These lists are updated continuously by credit card companies and are more accurate and up-to-date than card recovery bulletins.

Special Considerations

Early tools used by card issuers and merchants to detect and prevent credit card fraud included card recovery bulletins. Despite advances in card security, fraud remains a serious issue for card issuers. That reality has been evidenced by high-profile data breaches of retailers, banks, and other companies that maintain credit card and personal identification information on consumers. There have also been high levels of identity theft. In-person credit card fraud reached $3.68 billion in 2015, but declined to $2.91 billion the following year due to the introduction of EMV chip cards.

Card recovery bulletins may be helpful to international merchants when a card looks suspicious or an authorization is declined. The authorization message on a merchant's point of sale terminal will often include instructions to collect the card or request additional information from the cardholder. If a merchant is presented with a card listed on the card recovery bulletin, they cannot complete the transaction. They are advised to retain the card if doing so does not present an immediate physical threat to the merchant.

Evolution of Card Recovery Bulletin

Visa and Mastercard initially developed credit card embossing and micro security features to protect against counterfeits. Visa published its first card recovery bulletin in 1988, which became a catalyst for continuous advances in credit card monitoring and security. The following year, the company created the Visa Issuers' Clearinghouse Service, a centralized database of approved and fraudulent credit card applications. In 1996, it added the Visa Address Verification Service to allow merchants to confirm a cardholder's billing address.

Today, Visa, Mastercard, and other card issuers rely on digital tools in most markets to detect fraudulent credit cards and activity. These tools include chip cards, tokenization, biometrics, geolocation of payment-enabled mobile devices, and encryption.