Stolen Debit Card? Steps To Take Now and Ways To Protect Your Data in the Future

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Nov 6, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

In 2023, debit cards continue to be the preferred method for everyday purchases in the U.S. Debit cards are favored because they typically entail no annual fees and allow cardholders to avoid debt and interest[1], which can easily be accrued with credit cards. 

However, like any other plastic card, a debit card can become stolen and misused if you don’t take the necessary precautions. This article explains how to navigate a situation involving a lost or stolen debit card by tackling the following topics:

  • What to do if your debit card is stolen and used by an unauthorized party
  • What protective measures you enjoy as a debit cardholder
  • Which fraud techniques you should be aware of
  • How to keep your debit card and finances safe in the future
A minimalist illustration of two payment cards
Source: madartzgraphics

What To Do if Your Debit Card Is Stolen

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you should take the following steps if you notice your debit card is missing:

  1. Notify your debit card issuer immediately—You should report the stolen debit card to your card issuer as soon as possible[2]. You can contact customer support via the banking app or by calling the phone number written on the official website and your bank statement[2]. The card issuer will likely lock the debit card in question or cancel it immediately if stolen[3]. When reporting the theft to your card issuer, you should jot down all relevant information[2], including the name of the person you spoke with and the time of the conversation[4].
  2. Follow up with a letter—After notifying the financial institution of the missing debit card, you should also send them a letter[2] that includes all relevant information about the incident, such as the exact time and date when you noticed your debit card was missing and when you reported it, as well as your account number[2]. It’s advisable to save a copy of the letter[2] and ask for a return receipt so you can be sure the card issuer received the letter[4].
  3. Monitor your account activity—After reporting the theft of your debit card, you should continue to monitor your bank statements and transaction history. That way, you can further detect potential unauthorized charges and report them quickly[2].

Getting a Replacement Card

If your debit card was canceled, you can request a replacement from your card issuer. Once the new debit card arrives, you should activate it by using it or calling the number on the back of the card—the process may differ depending on the card issuer. You’ll also have to update your billing information with merchants you set up recurring payments with. Doing so will prevent you from missing any payments that you set up on your previous debit card, which can result in late fees or service disruptions[5].

A photo of a person placing a payment card inside a wallet
Source: Liza Summer

What To Do if Your Stolen Debit Card Is Misused

If you detect an unauthorized charge on your lost or stolen debit card, you should notify the card issuer about it immediately to limit your financial liability for unauthorized transactions[2]

Similarly to reporting a loss or theft of your debit card, you should follow up the unauthorized charge report in writing by sending a letter to the debit card issuer[4]. In the letter, outline the scope of the financial loss and other details about the transaction, as well as the date of the charge and the date of reporting it[4]. The FTC has devised a sample letter you can use to dispute the transaction.

Once you’ve filed a report, the consumer card issuer has ten business days (or 20 if the account isn’t older than 30 days) to investigate the claim and verify its authenticity[6]. If the institution needs more time to investigate, they must provide you with temporary credit to cover the stolen funds[6]. You should know that the card issuer may not grant temporary credit if you fail to deliver the incident report in writing after being instructed to do so[6].

If determined that the charge was wrongful, the card issuer has one day to refund the amount that was deducted[6]. After that, the issuer has three days to report its findings and resolution to you[6]

Debit Card Fraud Protection and Liability

Consumer debit cards fall under the jurisdiction of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. According to this law, you may not be held liable for fraudulent charges if you report them promptly[1]. The time limits are presented in the following table[2]:


Time of Reporting Your Maximum Liability
Before any charges took place None
Within two business days $50
Within 60 calendar days $500
After 60 calendar days Potentially, all funds fraudulently deducted from your account, plus any overdraft fees

In specific cases, such as when you’re prevented from reporting the incident due to travel or hospitalization, the card issuer may extend the notification period[6]

Compared to debit cards, consumer credit cards may offer slightly stronger fraud protection, as they’re governed by the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). This law limits the credit cardholder’s liability to $50 if they report an illegitimate transaction within 60 days[1]. However, many debit and credit card issuers have internal zero liability policies[1] that absolve you of any financial responsibility for fraudulent charges.

A close-up photo of a person’s hand holding a Mastercard debit card
Source: Pixabay

Card-Not-Present Fraud—Common Ways Fraudsters Obtain Your Card Data

Mitigating the damage of debit card theft and misuse is one part of the equation—the other one is being aware of the potential dangers so you can protect your card in the future. The new and growing threat to debit card users everywhere has become card-not-present fraud (CNP), which refers to fraudsters obtaining users’ card data through digital means

This trend has become prevalent as more and more businesses operate online. According to Insider Intelligence, card-not-present fraud made up about 72% of card fraud in 2022, rising from 57% in 2019. After acquiring the card or bank data, the perpetrator may attempt to sell it or use it to make purchases and cash withdrawals.

The next section breaks down some of the methods fraudsters use to get hold of your debit card information online:

  1. Data breaches
  2. Account takeover
  3. Phishing and other scams

Data Breaches

When shopping on e-commerce websites such as Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, Shein, and Wish, you have to provide your card information to make a payment. While companies and other organizations that store sensitive data typically employ various safety measures to keep it safe, data leaks can still happen.

Usually orchestrated by experienced and well-equipped individuals and groups, a data breach occurs when fraudsters manage to get into an organization’s system containing sensitive information, such as card numbers. They may do so by exploiting security vulnerabilities like outdated systems and misconfigured servers or by using social engineering.

If you learn that a company you’ve given your personal information to suffered a data breach, you should:

  • Monitor your account activity for unauthorized transactions
  • Let your card issuer know and potentially freeze or cancel your debit card
  • Be on alert in case someone tries to impersonate you using the stolen information and attempts to open new accounts in your name

Account Takeover

Fraudsters may also hack into your online account to extract payment card information. Some of the methods they use include:

  • Password attacks—Fraudsters have various tactics for guessing your password, such as brute force attacks (trying all possible combinations), dictionary attacks (trying common combinations), and spidering (guessing based on gathered information about the victim).
  • Main-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks—This type of attack happens when an unauthorized party intercepts the communication between two parties to eavesdrop on the data being transferred. A common means of doing this is through public Wi-Fi networks, which may be unsecured. That’s why you should never provide sensitive information or make purchases when connected to public Wi-Fi. 

Phishing and Other Scams

Phishing is a type of scam that typically involves a fraudster impersonating a legitimate organization or individual in an attempt to trick the target for personal gain. For example, the perpetrator may:

  • Pose as customer support and contact you about a fictional issue
  • Claim that you’ve won a fake prize
  • Pretend to be a person you know and ask for financial help

They can then ask you to provide sensitive information such as login credentials, your Social Security number, payment card data, and PIN, or download an attachment infected with malware. Some fraudsters go as far as creating a copycat website of a real business or institution, with the fictitious website being designed to steal your data.

A photo of a person typing on an Mac laptop keyboard while holding a payment card
Source: Karolina Grabowska

If you ever receive an unsolicited call, message, or email, you should never complete any actions until you’re sure of its authenticity. Some tell-tale signs of a phishing scam include:

  • Suspicious email address—Fraudsters often use generic email addresses (such as Yahoo or Gmail addresses) or addresses that seem almost identical to their real counterparts but have a few characters more or less. You should also be cautious if your email provider flags the email you received from the supposedly legitimate source as spam.
  • Impersonal greeting—Phishing messages usually don’t address the recipient by name. Instead, they may use a greeting like “Dear customer” or “Hi, Dear.” This is not practice for legitimate businesses as they typically use a more personal greeting when sending a message.
  • Poor spelling and grammar—A legitimate business employs professional writers and wouldn’t allow errors in its official communications.
  • Urgent tone—Phishing messages often convey a sense of urgency to attempt to scare the target into acting quickly.  

How To Keep Your Card Information Safe Online

If your debit card number is stolen, your funds are generally protected by the law and the debit card issuer. However, the process of reporting unauthorized charges, replacing your card, and recovering from potential identity theft can be lengthy and tiresome. Your best bet is to take proactive measures to shield your sensitive data from being stolen in the first place

For starters, you should enable all security features your card issuer provides, such as multi-factor authentication and transaction alerts. These can help you prevent unauthorized access to your debit card or detect fraud attempts in a timely manner. 

You should use a strong and unique password for each account you have. It’s also advisable to keep your devices and security software updated in case you end up downloading a malicious file by mistake. Most importantly, you should be careful who you’re providing your password and other confidential information to.

With virtual cards, you can avoid giving away your real financial information when transacting online. Although connected to a real funding source, such as your debit card or bank account, virtual cards mask your real card or bank data by substituting it with randomly generated card numbers

Some debit card issuers offer virtual card services free of charge, such as American Express®, Capital One®, and Citi®. Others, including major financial institutions like Bank of America®, Wells Fargo®, and Chase®, are yet to introduce such services. However, no matter which financial institution your debit card comes from, you can enjoy more customization features and control options on top of robust security with an independent virtual card provider like Privacy

A photo of a person holding a payment card and browsing an online clothing store
Source: Leeloo Thefirst

Take Control of Your Online Security With Privacy 

Privacy is your trusted tool for safer online shopping. You can connect your debit card or bank account to Privacy and generate multiple virtual cards to use at different merchants. As a BBB®-accredited company, Privacy is committed to offering top-tier customer service and adhering to stringent security standards. Read more about Privacy’s benefits in the table below:


Bank-Level Security Privacy abides by the same rigorous Payment Card Industry security standards as any reliable bank. Your data remains safe due to measures such as robust transaction monitoring, regular third-party security audits, and two-factor authentication (2FA).
Safe Shopping on the Go With the Privacy mobile app, available for Android and iOS devices, you can generate and manage virtual cards no matter where you are. You can opt to get an in-app or email notification when your virtual card is used or declined, which helps you catch potentially suspicious transactions promptly.
Widely Accepted Privacy Virtual Cards are issued by Visa® and Mastercard®, so you can use them at most merchants and websites that accept these payment methods.
Fast and Secure Purchases With the Privacy browser extension, you can enjoy fast and seamless checkouts. The extension auto-completes virtual card information in the checkout fields, so there’s no need to reach for your wallet every time you want to make a purchase. You can get the extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, or Safari for iOS if you own an iPhone or iPad.

Getting Familiar With Privacy Virtual Cards

When shopping on unfamiliar websites, you should use Single-Use Privacy Virtual Cards. These cards close minutes after the first transaction is completed, so they are useless to potential hackers who manage to steal them from a merchant’s servers.

For automatic payments and subscriptions, you can create Merchant-Locked Virtual Cards. The Merchant-Locked Card can be used at only one merchant, so potential hackers can’t use it to make purchases anywhere else.

You can also:

  • Pause or close your virtual cards—Pausing or closing a virtual card will prevent further transactions without affecting your actual debit card or bank account. This feature is especially useful when you want to stop unwarranted charges from subscription services.
  • Set spending limits—With spending limits, you can exercise more responsible budget management and prevent overcharging from sneaky merchants.

Sign Up for Privacy To Shop Safely and Conveniently

Follow these steps to get Privacy Virtual Cards and fortify your online transactions:

  1. Sign up
  2. Enter the information required to verify your identity
  3. Connect a debit card or bank account
  4. Request Privacy Virtual Cards


If you opt for Privacy’s Personal plan, which is free for domestic transactions, you’ll get 12 virtual cards a month, access to the desktop and mobile extensions and mobile app, as well as the card controls listed above. The other two plans offer you additional cards (up to 60 cards and benefits such as priority support, no foreign transaction fees, and the ability to hide merchant info on your bank statements).

References

[1] Mark P. Cussen. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050214/credit-vs-debit-cards-which-better.asp, updated March 19, 2023 
[2] The Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice. Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards. https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-debit-cards#:~:text=Call%20%E2%80%94%20or%20get%20on%20the,after%20you%20report%20the%20loss, January 2022
[3] Visa. https://usa.visa.com/support/consumer/lost-stolen-card.html, sourced October 2023 
[4] The Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice. https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/sample-letter-disputing-credit-debit-card-charges, May 2021 
[5] Wells Fargo. https://www.wellsfargo.com/help/online-banking/card-controls-faqs/, sourced October 2023 
[6] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/how-do-i-get-my-money-back-after-i-discover-an-unauthorized-transaction-or-money-missing-from-my-bank-account-en-1017/, last reviewed August 28, 2023 
[7] Mindaugas Jančis. Cyber News. https://cybernews.com/best-password-managers/password-cracking-techniques/, 30 August 2023
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