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, like 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 discover whether a suspicious credit card has been stolen, is over-limit, or is a problem in other ways.
  • The bulletin is published by the major credit card companies and distributed to a variety of merchants as a way to alert the merchants not to honor a suspicious card.
  • In the digital era, a merchant is more likely to check electronic records for the viability of a card, as those records are updated continuously and are thus more current.
  • However, the credit card companies still distribute the card recovery bulletins for the benefit of mostly non-U.S. merchants who might lack a computer or Internet access.

Understanding a Card Recovery Bulletin

Card issuers publish card recovery bulletins, also known as cancellation bulletins, hot card lists, or restricted card lists, but they are usually used by non-U.S. merchants who either do not have computers or Internet access. Such bulletins were used by U.S. merchants on a regular basis before the digital era.

Nowadays, merchants more frequently access electronic records of illicit or so-called problem credit cards electronically. These lists are updated continuously by the 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. Fraud committed with a credit card present peaked in 2015 with losses of $3.6 billion but has since declined by nearly half 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 pick up the card or a request for additional information from the cardholder. If a merchant is presented with a card that is listed on the CRB, the merchant cannot complete the transaction and Visa advises retaining 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 1995, 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 activities. These latest tools and technologies include chip cards, tokenization, biometrics, geolocation of payment-enabled mobile devices, and encryption.