A missing credit card can put you in a tough spot, especially when you have no idea what happened to it.
What if someone stole it? You want to alert your issuer before fraudulent charges start piling up and get a replacement ASAP. But getting a new card could take days.
And what if it’s merely lost? You could cancel the card immediately — only to find it minutes later, hiding behind some couch cushions.
Here’s what to do when you realize your credit card isn’t where it’s supposed to be.
First, freeze or lock your card
When you’re not sure what happened to your card, the best thing you can do is buy yourself some time to retrace your steps. That’s easy to do if your card gives you the option to lock or freeze certain new card transactions remotely from your phone or computer. Freezing or locking your card generally takes only a few clicks, and cards can be “thawed” or unlocked instantly.
In 2015, Discover became the first major issuer to add this capability to its credit cards when it debuted a feature called “Freeze it.”
The feature “truly is an on/off switch that our cardmembers can use through their app or on our website to prevent new purchases, balance transfers and cash advances if they can’t find their card,” Laks Vasudevan, vice president of product strategy for Discover, said via email.
Since then, almost every major issuer has introduced similar card controls. If your card has a feature like this, take advantage of it.
Still missing? Contact your issuer
If, after you’ve locked it, your card is still nowhere to be found, it’s time to alert your issuer.
“Call the credit card company immediately and tell them,” Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, said via email. “The company will cancel the card and send you a new one.”
By doing this, you’re preventing future unauthorized charges on the card, Wu notes. Of course, even if fraudulent charges are made, you generally won’t be liable for them. Federal law sharply limits your liability for fraudulent credit card purchases on lost or stolen cards, and credit card networks’ zero-liability policies generally mean you won’t be liable for any amount. But it’s best to prevent fraudulent charges in the first place, Wu says.
Remember that after replacing your card, you’ll no longer be able to use your old card number to make purchases or other transactions, even if you find it later. You’ll also have to update any payment information for the recurring charges linked to your old card number. Generally, such a replacement will not affect your credit score, since the new card number will be associated with the same account.
Stolen? File a police report
Say you’re certain a thief stole your credit card — or even swiped your whole wallet. Calling your issuers to report the theft is a good start, but it’s not the only thing you should do.
In cases of stolen credit cards, “One step you don’t really see people taking, and they really should be taking, is filing a police report,” says Kyle Marchini, senior analyst for fraud management at Javelin Strategy & Research, a research-based advisory firm.
He notes it’s doubly important to file such a report if your driver’s license was stolen, too, since it includes information that could be used for financial fraud or criminal impersonation. Reporting the theft could help the police gather information and potentially recognize patterns of similar criminal activity, Marchini notes.
To file a police report, call your local police department. Be prepared to provide information about where and when the theft happened and which items were stolen.
How to keep your cards close
Sometimes, credit cards go missing for reasons beyond your control. But if you regularly have trouble keeping track of your plastic, making these small changes could help.
Give your card a home
When you’re done using a card, make a habit of putting it back in the same place every time — say, your wallet — rather than just pocketing it, setting it on a nightstand or letting it fly solo in your purse.
Take a wallet inventory
Marchini recommends making a list of all the cards in your wallet. “It makes it that much easier if your wallet does go missing or is stolen,” he says. “You know who you should be getting in contact with.”
Download your credit card issuer’s app
Set this up now so you’ll be able to lock or freeze your card quickly in case it ever goes missing again. While you’re at it, turn on push notifications to notify you about your card spending, too, so you can spot fishy charges right away.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.