If you read the news regularly, it’s difficult not to be scared of the consequences of each major credit card security breach. Here's what to do when your credit card has been stolen or hacked.

It seems like every week we hear of a major company having its computer systems breached. And when customer’s credit card information is stolen, like it did recently with British Airways, its customers can become the real victims.

In the case of the British Airways breach, hackers reported gained possession of the credit card information of approximately 380,000 customers. If you have reason to believe that you’ve been a victim of one of these corporate breaches of your credit card information, here’s what you can do.

Don’t panic

Banks are getting more secure

While the number of electronic information breaches has certainly grown in recent years, this phenomenon is nearly as old as computers themselves. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that any American hasn’t already been the victim of multiple data breaches, and won’t be the victim of many more in the future.

Yet somehow, life goes on unchanged for the vast majority of us. Why is that? Financial institutions respond by changing the account numbers of affected individuals, while making it harder for criminals to utilize stolen information by adding multiple layers of authentication before opening new accounts or completing fund transfers.

Federal laws protect you

But most importantly for credit card users in the United States, we continue to be protected by very strong federal laws. The Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 says that cardholders can never be responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent or inaccurate charges so long as they are reported to card issuers within 60 days of receiving their bill. And while the law sets a limit of $50 of consumer liability, in practice all major card issuers waive this requirement and offer zero-dollar liability policies.

Scrutinize your statements

While the Fair Credit Billing Act is iron-clad, the only loophole is that credit card users must actually look at their statements and report any unauthorized or inaccurate charges. So the best way to fight fraud is simply to look at all the charges on your credit card statement each month, and investigate any unfamiliar to you. Taking a second to search the company name attached to an unfamiliar charge may jog your memory before you need to notify your card issuer that the charge is fraudulent.

But if you do find a fraudulent charge, a simple phone call is all that’s necessary to report it. The card issuer will immediately issue you a temporary credit for the amount of the charge, which will become permanent unless the merchant can prove it to be legitimate. In most cases, you’ll never have to do anything else.

Consider a credit freeze

One of the most common ways for criminals to profit from your personal information is to open accounts in your name. While there are safeguards that prevent criminals from doing this, they can’t prevent every attempt. The ultimate step to prevent criminals from opening fraudulent accounts in your name is to request a credit freeze.

Once your accounts are frozen, no one, including yourself, can open a new account until you specifically request a “thaw” using a special personal identifier number that you were given.

To request a credit freeze, you can go to the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov, which offers links to each bureau’s freeze website. The Federal Trade Commission’s site also offers other valuable resources for victims of identity theft.

Utilize your credit card issuer’s resources

With security breaches constantly in the news, some credit card issuers are creating resources to help their customers fight fraud. For example, Barclays’ security features, include:

Fraud Text Alerts

Barclays’ will send you free fraud text alerts if there’s anything suspicious happening with your accounts. They also allow you to opt-in and receive texts about the following:

  • Payment received
  • Payment due
  • Credit card daily usage (number of transactions)
  • Credit card daily usage (in dollars)
  • Approaching credit limit
  • Paper statement ready
  • All transactions, one-by-one, as you use your card

SecurPass™ code

It may seem annoying to have to send a code to your phone or email. But, this secure step that Barclays has whenever you sign-in from an unknown device helps ensure your account is more secure.

Summary

If you read the news regularly, it’s difficult not to be scared of the consequences of each major credit card security breach. But by taking a few simple steps, you can be sure that you never have to pay for the cost of a fraudulent transaction on your credit card.

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About the author

Total Articles: 35
Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards, travel and personal finance since 2008, and is passionate about using his cards to travel for free. Jason contributes to many of the top personal finance and travel sites and has been widely quoted in mainstream media as a credit card expert. Jason lives in Denver Colorado where he enjoys bicycling, snowboarding and flying. You can follow Jason on Twitter, Facebook or on his website.