Minimizing the Pain of Stolen Credit Cards

Perhaps this story sounds familiar to you?  You’re out to dinner and it’s time to pay your bill.  You hand your card to the server.  Minutes later, they return to awkwardly inform you there’s something wrong and your card isn’t working.  You now scramble to find another card or see if you have enough cash to cover your meal.  You then check your phone and you have a voicemail from your credit card company.  There’s been a mysterious charge on it and so they’ve deactivated it until they can speak to you.

These type of scenarios happen daily and can really put a damper on your day.  What can you do to avoid this or at least minimize the chances of a loss?

Use a Credit Card Instead of a Debit Card When Possible

When a charge is run on a debit card, the money is immediately taken out of the owner’s account.  If you ask to dispute a charge, your money is tied up while the credit processor investigates the issue.  In the case of a credit card, the questionable charge is not due unless it is found to be valid.  Ideally you should never need to use a debit card.

Physically Protect Your Card

Your card contains everything a thief needs to conduct a fraudulent charge.  Keep your cards safely in a purse or wallet until it’s time to pay.  Obviously there are times where your card will leave your sight (such as at dinner), but do your best to minimize when you have to let the card leave your possession.  There is no reason an employee should have to write down your card information, so if you suspect they are or they are doing something that appears out of the ordinary, ask to speak to a manager on duty.

Try to avoid leaving your cards (and other private items) lying around the office or when you’re visiting friends.  Minimize the chances that something will be taken or misplaced by keeping them on your person or in a locked drawer.

Cancel and Destroy Old Cards, Leave Excess at Home

Have cards you rarely use?  Does your bank send you a debit card that you don’t need?  Leave them at home to minimize the chance you’ll misplace them.  Better yet, close the accounts completely if you don’t use or need them.

Never carry your social security card and/or PINs in your wallet.  Again, leave all of this at home.  Have a PIN you can’t remember?  Try calling your bank and asking if you can set something you have a chance of remembering, or try making a word out of it as nearly every ATM and credit card machine have A-Z on the keys (Seinfeld had an entire episode about this topic:

Shred All Documents

It’s amazing how many documents have critical information such as credit card numbers on them.  Shred all documents as soon as you don’t need them to minimize the chance of someone pulling them out of the recycling later.

Beware Where You Use Your Card

If you question the legitimacy of an establishment, avoid using a card at all and use cash instead.

Avoid the no-name ATMs often found in businesses when using debit or credit cards as they are often running outdated software, are notoriously insecure, and often store your card number and/or PIN.  A number of units have been found in recycling and trash heaps, still containing the data stored internally.

Make sure the websites you purchase are legitimate.  Big names like and are well known but smaller sites may prove more insecure.  Be sure to look for the secure lock to ensure encryption is being utilized.  Visit to learn more about browsing securely.

Never send credit card numbers or details over e-mail.

Make sure your computer has an up-to-date operating system and anti-virus program installed to minimize the chances of someone stealing your card while you’re purchasing items online.

Use A Dedicated Card or Bank Account for Reoccurring Payments

If possible, use a dedicated card only for reoccurring charges such as online bills.  This will minimize the pain if your main card number is stolen, as you will not have to notify any of your online accounts about the change.  If a second card is not an option, most bill pay systems will allow you to use your bank’s routing number for payment.  This would also remove the need to update records if your main card were lost or stolen.

Keep Your Mailing Address Up To Date

Replacement cards are automatically mailed to the address on file.  With automated payments and online bill pay, it’s easy to forget that you’ve moved and have yet to update your mailing address.  Setup mail forwarding before you move at to ensure you don’t miss any bills and someone else doesn’t get your sensitive information.

Check Your Statements and Credit History

Give your statements a quick glance each month to make sure charges look correct.  Immediately contact your credit card company if anything looks abnormal.

Request your free credit score from to make sure all of the accounts in your name are accurate.  You can request one free report from each of the three major credit unions per year.  Some people choose to order all three at once, while others requests one report every 4-6 months in a rotation to ensure each is accurate and to minimize the amount of time in between each free report.

Jake McAleer, CISA, CCNA

About Jake McAleer, CISA, CCNA

Jake is the IT Audit and Security Manager at O'Connor & Drew, P.C. where he focuses on security and compliance. His previous positions include internet infrastructure services, IT audit in the financial industry, and systems work with defense contractors.

Jake McAleer, CISA, CCNA
Author: Jake McAleer, CISA, CCNA
Jake is the IT Audit and Security Manager at O'Connor & Drew, P.C. where he focuses on security and compliance. His previous positions include internet infrastructure services, IT audit in the financial industry, and systems work with defense contractors.