What to do when your debit card gets stolen

By glblguy

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Photo Credit: Morguefile.com

Back in October, my debit card was stolen. Working with my bank, I got it all settled, but it was very stressful. I learned a few tips and tricks though that should help you keep an eye on your debit card, watch for potential mis-use and know what to do if your debit card is stolen.

I am still working with the bank on my experience and hope to publish and update soon. In the meantime, here are some tips that I hope will help you avoid a similar experience and know what to do when your card gets stolen:

1 – Check your accounts daily

I check my online banking transactions and balances twice daily: once in the morning to see what posted during the night and once in the evening to see what came in during the day. It takes just a few minutes to do it and gives me significant peace of mind. I also use this time to quickly update our budget.

Had I been doing this before my card was stolen I would have recognized it was missing and being misused sooner than I did. I just do a real quick check to make sure everything looks correct, specifically looking out for any un-recognized transactions. If I see something that doesn’t look right, I call my wife and ask her about it, if she doesn’t recognize it I call my bank immediately.

2 – Set-up Balance Alerts

Many banks also have online balance alerts, that will email or send an SMS message to your cell phone when your balance drops below a set amount. I would strongly advise you set up balance alerts and don’t set them too low. Receiving an unexpected low balance alert could be an early warning sign that someone is cleaning out your account and may allow you to stop it before they do. I have mine set pretty high.

3 – Keep your debit card in a secure and consistent place

As most men do, I keep my debit card in my wallet. Unlike most people though, I keep it in the same place facing the same way. This makes it easy to quickly check my wallet and make sure my card is there. Keeping it in the same place also makes it easy to visually detect if it’s missing. When I open my wallet for any reason, if my card isn’t there it’s very obvious.

What I learned the hard way is that your debit card is similar to carrying the cash amount you have in your account in your wallet (up to the spending limit of course). Treat it like you would treat carrying a large sum of cash. For all intents and purpose, that is really what it is.

4 – If your debit card is missing, call your bank immediately

If you notice your card is missing and can’t find it within a few minutes, call your bank immediately. Go straight to the fraud department. In my case the banks fraud department was great to work with. They were very understanding, helpful and proactive…which is what you need. If it turns out you just misplaced it, no big deal…better safe than sorry.

Regarding calling your bank. Keep their customer service phone number in your cell phone. In my situation, I was out of town and my card was missing. I couldn’t look the number up on the internet, and since I didn’t have the card, I couldn’t get the number off of the back. Fortunately I had it in my cell phone. You don’t need your account numbers or card numbers, the bank can look these up for you.

5 – Have a “Plan B”

The big mistake I made, and in hindsight I can’t believe I didn’t think through this more, is having a plan B. When your debit card gets stolen you will most likely be faced with one of two scenarios 1) The thief cleaned out your account and/or 2) The bank will have to block your debit card and/or account until things settle. In both of these situations, you will not have easy access to your money.

I had cut up all of my credit cards, and only had that one debit card and no significant cash with me. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Best part? We were on vacation and needed money for groceries.

When we got back from our trip, I immediately created an ING Direct checking account* and had them send me a debit card. I now keep my emergency fund in the ING checking account so I have access to my emergency fund if and when I need it. I have two emergency funds, one is a true emergency fund ($1000) and another which is a longer term emergency fund.

So now if my debit card gets stolen, I have something to fall back on. Oh, and I’ll be bringing a bit of cash with me too! Funny how something that is so obvious now wasn’t at the time.

6 – Don’t sign your debit card

I am sure I’ll get some disagreement on this: I don’t sign my debit card. I put “CHECK ID” on them. This causes the person running the register to look at my driver’s license to check my ID. When I had my signed, they never checked my signature and seldom checked my ID. Also, don’t leave it blank, doing so will allow the theif to just sign your name and use your card at will.

Businesses aren’t near as diligent as they should be an verifying IDs on debit and credit cards, and I think this is a huge problem. But at least placing “SEE ID” almost makes the business validate your ID.

* If you would like to create either an ING Direct checking or savings account, contact me and I’ll send you a referral. You’ll get free money and I’ll get a little as well.

Any tips I missed? Have you ever had your debit card stolen or misplaced? What is your plan B? Add a comment below!

31 Responses (including trackbacks) to “What to do when your debit card gets stolen”

  1. WJ Says:

    Great post! I lost my card around a year ago. Lucky for me, I noticed it right away and called the bank. Thankfully whomever got it did not get any of our money, but it was a scary situation. Good information on the backup plan as well, I did not have one neither before, and it can put you in a rough way. Thanks for the great informaiton!!

  2. glblguy Says:

    Thanks WJ. Funny thing your comment made me think out. I can see all of the searches that lead people to my website coming from google, MSN, Yahoo, etc. I have searches come in daily for things like “Can a stolen debit card be traced”, “Can I use a debit card I’ve found”, “How to use a stolen debit card”, etc.

    Made me realize, there are lots of evil people out there just looking for opportunities to take advantage of your unfortunate situation.

  3. Patrick Says:

    Great advice, Glblguy! All of these tips are solid, and I think it is always important to have a plan B.

  4. Money Blue Book Says:

    Losing your wallet and credit/debit cards can be scary….thankfully most lost cards can be replaced and rendered harmless. Why some keep their social security cards in their wallets is beyond me though

  5. Laura Says:

    This is a very helpful post, thanks! It’s good to be prepared for problems before they arise.

  6. Lynnae @ Being Frugal Says:

    My husband has lost his debit card before, but we always caught it right away, before any charges were made.

    It’s so important to check your bank transactions every day, though. We had a situation in a town not far from here where an employee of a popular store was running debit and credit cards through a machine that copied the information. Then he sold the information to somebody in Los Angeles. Hundreds of people had unauthorized transactions on their cards. Some caught it right away, but those that weren’t on top of their bank accounts didn’t find out until it made the front page of the news.

    Just because you still have your card with you doesn’t mean your information isn’t compromised. So stay on top of things! :)

  7. glblguy Says:

    @Patrick – Thanks and I agree on the plan B…and maybe even a C :-)

    @Money Blue Book – Fortunately losing a wallet hasn’t happened to be. I agree on SSN…not needed and very risky.

    @Laura – Thanks Laura!

  8. glblguy Says:

    @Lynnae – Great advice Lynnae. That is a very common way of getting your credit card information these days. They even do it on ATMs!

  9. justin Says:

    I never have my card signature checked. Most of the time nowadays the clerk doesn’t even touch it. So putting “Check ID” would be mostly useless. I could run to Kroger, buy a couple hundred in gift cards, the clerk wouldn’t even touch my card. Go to another place similar, etc.

    My backup plan is to not use a debit card, ever. Just pay off the CC every month and use that as my general purpose card, like you do with a debit card, and get the extra protections we have tossed around on the subject before.

  10. glblguy Says:

    Justin, I’ve noticed they don’t compare them, but they do look to see if the card is signed or not in many cases. Not sure what good this does, but they do it. When I started putting SEE ID on it, as soon as they looked for a signature and saw it they would ask for my ID…almost like a reminder. Now, that is all when I am handing them my card.

    You’re dead on though about swiping it. They never look.

  11. Jen Says:

    If you’re going to put “CHECK ID” on the back of your card, you should sign it as well. If you check the back of the card you’ll see where it usually says “not valid unless signed”. I’ve worked at a place that refused to accept an unsigned card, even if it says “CHECK ID”. If you sign your name and write “check ID” then the cashier will still have a reminder, but your card will be valid. I do this on all my cards and the cashiers almost always ask for my ID.

  12. glblguy Says:

    Hi Jen and thanks for commenting. I have had a similar experience and am aware of what the card says. There really isn’t much room on there to sign. I guess if you have a small signature you could do that and that would be the best of both worlds. I don’t though.

    I’ve had one store turn me down out of the years I’ve been doing this, and I just left. Wasn’t mad at them, although I did find it a bit silly.

    So, if you have room, I think Jen’s suggestion is probably the best. Thanks Jen!

  13. Justin Says:

    I can’t be the only one that runs into the issue of the signature pad just wearing off, can I?

    Mine wear off after about 6 months or so.

  14. Paul Says:

    I like the notion of putting “See ID” or similar on the back of a credit or debit card. That actually takes the place of a signature. I work for a bank and I’ve contacted Visa, MasterCard and Discover about this as well, and they have all gone on record with my bank stating this an appropriate means of fraud reduction.

    the way I look at it – I’ve had a whole lot more practice recognizing someone by the way they look. I have yet to be sent to class for handwriting analysis, which is what you’d need to do for a handwriting comparison to be effective. Also, with the advent of the electronic signature pads, the signature is virtually useless. It is captured to associate the transaction with a time on a video camera (at least at a store I work at part time) so that if the transaction is in dispute, the company can go to the video to compare you to ythe image of the person signing the pad on the video!

  15. glblguy Says:

    @Paul – thanks for the comment Paul. I agree, recognition by face is far more accurate. Thanks for sharing your perspective! Oh, welcome to Gather Little by Little.

  16. SC Says:

    One time in a hotel parking lot I found a Wells Fargo debit card on the ground in between cars. The hotel was near an amusement park–I was at the hotel for a seminar though. I immediately took the card up to the front desk and gave it to them. However, neither clerk thought it was a big deal and told me they’d put it in the lost or found. I told them they should probably look up the name on the card to see if it was a guest or maybe even announce it because it could belong to someone at the seminar. They didn’t.

    In retrospect, I probably should’ve cut up the card and called the 1800 number on the back and let them know I found a card and cut it up.

  17. Toby Says:

    If you’re going to be one of those paranoid weirdos who write “CHECK ID” on his credit or debit card, you need to actually sign your signature, as well.

  18. glblguy Says:

    Hi Toby, why do you consider that paranoid weirdo? Have you ever hard your card stolen and used? I have. Also, why sign it too?

  19. Toby Says:

    Your contract with Visa requires you to sign the card. Simply look at the back of your card. “Not Valid Unless Signed.” “CHECK ID” is not a signature – so if you write “CHECK ID” you also need to add your signature.

    I have never had my credit card “stolen” because I am careful not to lose or misplace it.

  20. glblguy Says:

    Thanks Toby, appreciate the kinder reply. A similar comment was made and I agreed that is probably the best of both worlds.

    I was careful with mine too, but even the best of us make mistakes sometimes.

    Thanks again for dropping by and for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Paul Says:

    Obviously you have not considered the fact that someone would assault you and steal your wallet. That happened to my wife, and all of the cards that had “Check ID” written on them had no charges. The ones that had her signature had charges. Yes, I know Visa covers for unauthorized charges, but it took well over a year to get some of the charges removed. I was out that money in the mean time because I had to pay it to keep my payments current.

  22. Carol Says:

    We did not lose ours and it was not stolen, just the number was used, how does this happen?