What to Do If Someone Steals Your Credit Card Number (and I Should Know)


Last week, I logged in to my credit card account to do my regular budget run-through. As I scrolled through the recent charges—$7 at my local brewery, $25 for guitar lessons—I spotted something out of the ordinary: a $4.09 charge at an OshKosh B’Gosh store in Edinburgh, Ind. I live in Fort Collins, Colo.

At first, I panicked: Had someone stolen my identity? Was a faux Lindsay VanSomeren about to upgrade from spending a few bucks on baby clothes to a full-blown spending spree at any moment?

After I calmed down, I picked up the phone.

The first thing I did was notify my credit card issuer about the fraudulent charge. They immediately reversed it, suspended the account and mailed me a new card, which arrived within the week. (In the meantime, I used a different credit card—logging in daily to ensure it hadn’t been compromised.) I knew from my previous budget reviews that this was the first unusual charge. If I hadn’t been as thorough, I would have gone through my old charges with a fine-toothed comb.

(Editor’s Note: Credit card issuers will typically credit your account quickly if you alert them of a fraudulent purchase—and many will even alert you if a pending charge seems out of the ordinary before approving it. Be aware that if someone makes fraudulent charges using your debit card information, it may take longer to have that money replaced in your account.)

Next, I filed a free 90-day fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus. Essentially, this requires companies to verify your identity before issuing new credit—which should stop further identity fraud before it occurs. After you file an alert with one bureau, they’re required to tell the other two and issue free copies of your credit report. I reviewed mine carefully. Thankfully, they were clean.

At that point, I felt sure that the errant charge was an isolated incident, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on my accounts just in case.

If I do spot more fraudulent activity, I’ve got a game plan.

I’ll create a paper trail by immediately filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and my local police, then I’ll notify my other financial service providers—like banks and creditors—so I can close existing accounts and open new ones with a different card number. I’ll pull another copy of my credit report, too, making sure to quickly dispute any fraudulent charges or accounts. Those FTC and police documents will help support my case.

At that point, I have several options for better surveillance, like signing up for an extended credit monitoring service (though these often cost money), requesting an extended fraud alert for up to seven years or even a credit freeze, which prevents new credit from being opened in my name.

Hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, I’ll be ready. For now, I’ll just go back to focusing on paying off the purchases I do make, and keeping my credit in good shape.