What to do if you’re a victim of credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is the No. 1 type of identity theft, according to 2022 data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The good news is that if this happens to you, there’s a clear set of next steps for you to follow. And if you report credit card fraud, you may be able to reduce its financial and emotional impact.

Key takeaways

  • If you’ve been a victim of credit card fraud, report it immediately to your card issuer and to law enforcement.
  • The Fair Credit Billing Act limits cardholders’ liability for unauthorized charges to $50.
  • Some issuers, including Capital One, offer $0 liability for unauthorized charges if your card is lost or stolen.*
  • Your credit score can be affected if fraudulent activity isn’t reported and bills go unpaid.
  • Protecting your credit doesn’t have to be difficult. Checking bills and credit reports regularly for errors and fraudulent activity can help.

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What is credit card fraud?

Credit card fraud is a form of identity theft that occurs when someone uses your credit card or your credit card information to buy something or access your account without permission. The scammer doesn’t need to actually have your card to commit this type of fraud.

Credit card fraud sometimes gets confused with credit card disputes. If you don’t agree with how a company has used your card, but you did give them permission to use it, that could be a dispute. But it’s generally not credit card fraud. This applies even if a scammer persuaded you to purchase something with your credit card. In other words, if you authorized the purchase, it may not be credit card fraud.

Make sure you’re clear about whether you’re dealing with fraud or a dispute, because the process for disputing a charge is different than it is for reporting fraud.

Types of credit card fraud

Credit card fraud can take many different forms, and it’s getting more sophisticated all the time. Here are some common types: 

  • Card-not-present fraud: This refers to fraud committed over the phone or online when a scammer has your card details, but not your physical card. Your information could have been bought on the dark web—or you could have been a victim of a phishing scam or a data breach.
  • Counterfeit card fraud: This occurs when someone creates a fake card with your information. Thieves often steal card information by “skimming.” They place a device called a “skimmer” over the card slot on an ATM or other card reader, like at a gas pump. When you slide in your card, the skimmer reads and stores all of your data. 
  • Account or application fraud: Fraudsters often get hold of personal information by dumpster diving, skimming or stealing mail. With details like your home address, Social Security number and birth date, they might be able to access your credit card account or apply for a new card in your name.
  • Lost or stolen card fraud: This old-school credit card theft can happen when a fraudster uses a card you’ve lost, whether you dropped it in the street, had it stolen in the mail or were pickpocketed.

How to spot signs of credit card fraud

Whether you suspect you’re a victim of credit card fraud or you’d like to prevent it, here are some common signs to look for:

  • Transactions on your monthly account statements that you don’t recognize
  • Blocked access to your account 
  • Changes to your credit report you didn’t authorize, like new accounts or addresses that aren’t yours
  • Unexpected calls from creditors or collection agencies

A monitoring tool can help you stay on top of your personal information. CreditWise from Capital One is a free service that gives you the ability to detect suspicious activity.

How to report credit card fraud

The sooner you notice and report credit card fraud, the quicker you can stop any unauthorized spending in your name. That can protect your credit score and limit your liability for any fraudulent charges.

If you think you may be the victim of credit card fraud, here’s how to report it:

Contact your card issuer

If you still have the card, look on the back for a toll-free number. If you don’t have it, check the company’s website. Or you can contact your credit card issuer by letter or email.

Contact a credit bureau

You can also set up a fraud alert and/or a credit freeze, which makes it harder for anyone to change the details of your accounts or to open new accounts. With a fraud alert, you have to alert only one of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®—and it will alert the other two. With a freeze, you have to contact each one of the three yourself.

File an FTC complaint

The FTC will refer your complaint to the relevant authorities and offer resources to get you back on track. In most cases, taking this step means you don’t have to file a police report.

Thankfully, if you report credit card fraud and it’s investigated and verified, the Fair Credit Billing Act says you’ll be liable for no more than $50, no matter how many charges are made on your card.

What to do if you suspect a fraudulent charge on your Capital One credit card

If you can’t find your card or think someone stole your card information, you should report fraud. Capital One will immediately lock the card so no one else can use it, and they’ll issue you a replacement card with a new card number.

If you’ve noticed one or more charges on your account that you don’t recognize, you can follow these steps before reporting credit card fraud:

  • Go back through your receipts to remind yourself where you’ve been, what you’ve bought and how much you’ve spent.
  • Look up the merchant online to see whether it has a parent company or a business name that’s different from the one you know. That might be the one that’s on your bill.
  • Check with any family members or friends authorized to use the account to make sure they didn’t make the transactions in question.

How to help protect yourself from credit card fraud

Taking the steps above could help you move on more quickly if you’ve already been a victim of credit card fraud. But there are also things you can do to protect yourself from it happening again.

For example, instant purchase notifications might help you keep track of spending in real time. Fraud alerts from your issuer can help you spot unusual or suspicious charges. And card lock features might allow you to lock your card if you suspect it’s been lost or stolen.

If you’re a Capital One customer, you can access and enable security features by adding the Capital One Mobile app to your phone or by signing in to your account online.

The FTC also suggests following these best practices:

  • Don’t give your account information over the phone unless you’re sure the caller is who they say they are. If you’re not sure, ask to call them back to give yourself time to check.
  • Don’t lend your card to anyone, and shred old cards, statements and receipts.
  • Watch for suspicious behavior during any transaction that requires you to hand over your card.
  • Save your receipts to compare them with your monthly statement.
  • Be on the lookout for phishing scams that ask you to click links or open attachments or that ask for money or for you to share personal information.

How can credit card fraud affect my credit?

If it goes undetected, credit card fraud can paint a negative picture of your creditworthiness.

This could be especially challenging if you’re in the process of applying for a loan or other financing or interviewing for a job where your credit is being checked as part of the process.

So it’s important to keep an eye on your credit. According to Experian, being unaware of fraudulent activity could also affect your credit in the following ways:

  • Late payments: If a scammer opens a new account in your name and makes unauthorized charges, late or missed payments could become an issue for your credit. If the bills aren’t paid in time, it could be reported to the credit agencies and affect your credit scores.
  • High credit utilization: Fraudulent charges could make it look like you’re using a higher percentage of your available credit. This can cause an increase in your credit utilization ratio, a key factor used to calculate credit scores. 

Noticing credit card fraud and managing your credit is so important. So check your credit report regularly to look for any signs of fraud or identity theft. And if you see signs of either, report it immediately.

Credit card fraud in a nutshell

Working to prevent credit card fraud is important. And the law and credit card issuers may be there to help too. But there are no guarantees. That’s why learning the signs and acting quickly to report suspected fraud are so important.

It’s a good idea to check your credit report as often as you can and question anything you don’t recognize. You can get free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

And with CreditWise from Capital One, you can access your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore® 3.0 credit score anytime without negatively impacting your credit scores. Plus, CreditWise is free and available to everyone—not just Capital One account holders.

*Claims of unauthorized use and liability for unauthorized charges are subject to investigation and verification.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information, or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it can be one accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

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