What to do if your credit card gets hacked?

No matter how closely you watch your credit cards and other personal information, you are not entirely protected from the possibility of credit card fraud. Data breaches from companies like Equifax and most recently Quest Diagnostics and Capital One have taught us that. Even if you keep your cards and information close to the vest, there’s always a chance a company’s credit card security will fail and leave your information at risk.

So, what exactly do you do if your credit card is hacked? There are plenty of steps you can take to prevent identity theft or stolen credit card numbers, but there are also moves to make if you find you’re already at risk. 

Here’s what you should do before and after your credit card number is stolen or your personal information is compromised in some way.

Be smart with your credit and personal details

When it comes to identity theft and preventing stolen credit card numbers, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests taking a few steps to prevent hackers and thieves from getting your information in the first place. Their best tips include:

  • Never giving your credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the company
  • Keeping your credit card within your line of visibility when you make a purchase with a restaurant or a retailer
  • Never signing blank receipts
  • Never writing your account number down in plain view

Also be careful when you use a credit card online. Make sure any websites where you make purchases are “secure,” which you can verify by confirming they start with “https” instead of just “http.” Another tip — avoid using your credit card or debit cards for purchases on public computers where a third party may find a way to get your information.

Monitor your accounts

Consumers should also take special care to keep track of all purchases made with debit and credit cards, according to the FTC. In other words, don’t assume your credit card bill is correct — take the time to go through each purchase charged to make certain that they are all legitimate.

You may also want to save receipts so you can compare them to the charges made to your account. This way, you’ll catch it quickly if a restaurant changes your tip or a retailer charged more than the amount noted on your receipt.

Report suspicious activity right away

If you’re keeping an eye on your credit card and debit statements, you’ll be in the best position to notice fraudulent charges right away. The FTC suggests reporting them to your card issuer immediately, and there’s a good reason why.

If you report fraudulent credit card charges when you notice them, your liability is limited to just $50. In the real world, however, most credit cards offer zero fraud liability, meaning you won’t be on the hook for a single cent.

Debit purchases come with more risk.  If you report fraudulent charges within two business days of your statement being sent to you, your liability is limited to $50. If you report more than two days but sooner than 60 days after you receive your statement, you could be on the hook for up to $500.

If you report the fraud later than 60 days after your statement is sent to you, on the other hand, your liability is only limited to “all the money taken from your ATM/debit card account, and possibly more; for example, money in accounts linked to your debit account,” notes the FTC.

That’s downright worrisome, and really a good argument for using credit instead of debit for most purchases anyway.

Keep an eagle eye on your credit reports

Your credit report lists an array of important information including all the open credit accounts you have, your balances on those accounts and your payment history. That’s why it’s such a valuable resource when it comes to preventing identity theft. If someone finds a way to open an account with your information, your credit report will list all the dirty details for you to find.

But you do have to be proactive when it comes to monitoring your credit report since you won’t be sent copies automatically. Fortunately, you can access a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — once per year using the website AnnualCreditReport.com.

Sign up for credit monitoring

Finally, if you want third-party help preventing identity theft or hackers getting your credit card information, you can also consider signing up for credit monitoring. Many companies offer different services within this niche and full-service help can often cost less than a dinner out each month.

With credit monitoring from Experian, for example, you get monitoring of all three of your credit reports, monthly updates, $1 million in identity theft insurance and more — and all for just $24.99 per month after an initial month at just $4.99.

Free options also exist, but their services tend to be limited. Both Credit Karma and Credit Sesame let you see which open accounts you have and your credit score online without signing up for paid monitoring, for example.

Holly Johnson

Personal finance writer

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who focuses on credit cards and credit, early retirement and travel. Johnson blogs at ClubThrifty.com and is also the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love, which is available on Amazon.com.