Lost and stolen cards: What to do

lost wallet

LOST and stolen cards: we've all been there.

This is our full guide to what to do when cards go missing, the emergency help available from banks in the aftermath and which precautions it's worth taking to stop this problem happening in the first place.

Cancelling your cards

Gratifyingly, this is one of those issues where the most commonly offered piece of advice is also the right piece: lost and stolen cards need to be cancelled as soon as possible.

First, there's a financial incentive: failing to cancel could be viewed as negligence - which can result in the holder losing entitlement to full compensation for any fraud losses that result.

Second, it's the easiest way to prevent fraud, which can cause untold problems later.

Stolen money can be reclaimed, but other types of fraud, such as a criminal applying for products using the cardholder's identity, could take longer to straighten out.

Call to cancel

All banks and credit card providers offer a 24-hour service for customers needing to cancel their cards.

Below are links to the help and cancellation pages of the UK's biggest banks, plus Visa and Mastercard.

The two card companies will usually ask that holders go through their banks, but they can also step in to help to cancel cards if needs be, and they're particularly useful should the cards go missing abroad.

Anyone wanting to cancel a card will need to confirm their identity.

Staff don't ask for a lot of information - but being able to provide the following will help:

Visa will also ask for the 16-digit number on the card, saying it's vital to have this information kept somewhere separate from the card itself.

Bank staff should also confirm with the cardholder the address the new cards will be sent to; if not, it's worth checking as that's one of the details criminals will sometimes change to get a new card sent to them instead.

Those with a card protection policy (more information below) will need to contact their insurer.

After cancelling

After cancelling, there's not much to do but wait for a new card.

If that means waiting without access to cash, though, providers may be able to forward emergency money in the interim, especially when cardholders are abroad.

New cards: how long do they take?

How long will it take to get a new card? Here's a breakdown of the policies of the big four banks.

Emergency cash: UK

Natwest and RBS mobile customers can use the banks' apps to withdraw up to £250 a day without their card.

Logging on to the app and requesting a specific withdrawal amount will generate a time-sensitive code usable at RBS, Natwest, Ulster Bank and Tesco cash machines.

This is similar to the service offered to those who don't do mobile banking: online and telephone banking customers can get up to £300 in emergency cash - available to withdraw from Natwest, RBS or Ulster Bank ATMs with a unique code - if their card is lost or stolen.

Customers who aren't signed up to online or phone banking can access £60 until they get their new card.

The money is coming from the affected customer's account, so it'll need to have enough funds to cover the request. The minimum balance to be able to use the emergency cash service is £25.

Unfortunately, this is the UK's only formal emergency cash scheme.

Other banks ask their card-less customers to visit their nearest branch with some form of identification, and most will make money available over the counter following a few security checks.

Barclays can also organise an emergency debit card in branch, should having to wait two days be impractical.

The other way to get cash in this situation is by holding a card protection policy: more on those down the page.

Emergency cash: abroad

The Natwest and RBS emergency cash scheme isn't available outside the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar.

However Lloyds offer a similar emergency cash scheme for cardholders abroad. The link above has the number to call - and other banks have their own informal help schemes, so it's worth asking when calling to cancel.

American Express are the undisputed kings of help abroad.

Their Global Assist programme promises emergency card replacement "as soon as is humanly possible", as well as emergency cash advance if necessary.

Getting stolen money back

Once the initial worry of having a card lost or stolen, the next concern is getting back any money that was fraudulently taken.

We have a full guide to the compensation available here.

In brief, though, under the rules laid down in the Payment Services Directive: when fraud was not the cardholder's fault they have the right to a full refund of the amount taken, and to get that refund immediately.

However, if the cardholder was somewhat at fault - for example, they didn't keep their PIN secure - they can be liable for £50 of any disputed transaction, though it's up to the provider to prove negligence.

Fraudulent transactions and/or gross negligence can result in the cardholder being liable for the full amount of a fraudulent transaction.

Preventing card disasters

All in all, it's better to avoid card disasters like this altogether.

Basic precautions

Here are five easy tips to help people and their cards stay safe.

  1. Use the "in sight" rule: keep cards, or at least the bag or jacket where they are, "in sight" - including when in semi public places like offices, and when making purchases.
  2. Don't write down PINs: don't tell them to friends or family either. If for some unusual reason, it's necessary to note down a PIN in a coded or disguised form, never ever keep it with any cards.
  3. Leave a card at home: consider leaving a card for a second account in a secure place at home. That way there's a safe source of emergency cash should your main cards go missing.
  4. Keep emergency contact numbers, especially abroad: look them up and write them down ahead of time. People with card protection schemes often get stickers with important contact details on; put them in a separate but convenient place.
  5. Sign cards when you get them: don't make it easy for thieves. Lots of places still ask for, or allow, signatures for goods and services.

Card protection insurance: worth it?

A further safeguard comes in the form of card protection policies, which offer insurance against financial loss should cards be lost or stolen.

These policies typically cost £30 to £40 a year and tend to offer compensation for the cost of any loss or fraud.

So that means full refunds for fraud on the card, plus cover for other costs like replacing locks and keys, lost bags (the actual bag, not the contents) or essential documents like passports.

The problem with that is that, as we've seen above, most fraudulent account activity is covered in full, while the services that are left are poor value, considering the cost of the policy.

Card protection companies haven't helped themselves in recent years by becoming embroiled in a mis-selling scandal which has seen them pay out millions in compensation.

We have a full guide to ID theft insurance, which is similar in many ways to these card protection policies. Find out more here.

Fraud when the cards haven't gone missing

Finally, note that one of the most common forms of fraud in the UK is that known as "card not present".

Criminals are more likely than ever to be able to access the money in an account without having access to any physical information about the account and card in question - whether that's the card itself, an image of it, or details included in bank letters.

In fact, remote criminal access to accounts is now so much more common that fraud services admit advice about watching your mail in shared buildings and the like is becoming obsolete.

Keeping cards safe is obviously still really important - apart from anything else, losing them is a giant pain in the neck - but keeping personal details safe in general is becoming more of a priority.

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