Lost and stolen cards: What to do

julia kukiewicz
By Julia Kukiewicz

lost wallet

LOST and stolen cards - we've all been there and we've all felt the uncertainty about how to cancel a card and what the possible financial consequences could be.

This guide aims to provide some tips on how to keep cards safe in the first place, and if the worst should happen, how to cancel cards, access emergency cash and get replacements. We also look at card protection insurance as a possible extra option.

Remote fraud or 'card not present' (CNP) fraud, which involves money being taken from an account without any access to a banking card, is an increasing problem, so we touch on this as well.

Basic precautions

According to Financial Fraud Action (FFA), the body which is responsible for fighting payment fraud in the UK, in 2016 £768.8 million was lost to fraud that targeted payment cards, cheques and remote banking. This was a 2% increase on 2015.

So before we begin, here are five quick ways to keep our cards and our cash safe, because it's always better to avoid a problem in the first place.

  1. Use the 'in sight' rule: Keep cards, or at least the bag or jacket they are in, in sight - including in semi-public places like offices.

  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 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 another card go missing.

  4. Note emergency contact numbers, especially when 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.

Cancelling a lost or stolen card

If the worst should happen and a card is lost or stolen it needs to be cancelled as soon as possible.

Initially there's a financial incentive. Failing to cancel could be viewed as negligence, which can result in the cardholder losing entitlement to full compensation for any fraud losses that result.

Also, cancelling is the easiest way to prevent fraud in the first place.

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

For more general information on fraud visit this article or for specific details on how to protect against identity fraud read this guide.

Call to cancel

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

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

Although these two card companies usually ask cardholders to go through their banks, they can step in to cancel cards if needed. They're also particularly useful should a card go missing abroad.

Remember that anyone who wants to cancel a card will need to confirm their identity.

When reporting a lost or stolen card the bank or card provider won'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. They say it's vital to have this information kept somewhere separate from the card itself.

Bank staff should also confirm with the cardholder which address the new card will be sent to. It's worth checking this point as criminals sometimes change an address to get a new card sent to them instead.

After cancelling

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

Of the four big banks, RBS/Natwest, HSBC and Lloyds will all send out a new card to be received within the standard 3-5 working days. If ordered before 10pm, Barclays will send out a new card to arrive within two working days.

If a cardholder does not have access to any cash in this period, some providers are able to offer emergency money in the interim, especially when cardholders are abroad.

Emergency cash: UK

If someone loses their card in the UK, only Natwest and RBS customers can access a formal emergency cash scheme.

Customers of these banks can use their mobile banking apps to withdraw up to £130 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 and Tesco cash machines.

This is similar to the service offered to those who don't use mobile banking.

Online and telephone banking customers can get up to £300 in emergency cash. This is available to withdraw from Natwest, RBS or Tesco ATMs with a unique code.

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

Note that the money comes from the affected customer's account and is not an advance from the bank. Therefore this scheme only works if the customer already has enough funds in their account to cover the request.

The minimum balance required in order to be able to use the emergency cash service is £10 for mobile banking customers and £20 for online and telephone banking customers.

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

Barclays can also organise an emergency debit card in branch if having to wait two days is impractical.

Another way to access cash in this situation without relying on the bank is to hold a card protection policy. There's more on these 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 who are abroad. The Lloyds link in the table above has the number to call.

Other banks have their own informal help schemes for lost or stolen cards abroad, so it's worth asking what they have in place when calling to cancel a card.

For those with an American Express card, their Global Assist programme promises an emergency card replacement "as soon as is humanly possible", as well as an emergency cash advance if necessary.

For more information on this take a look at our guide to using credit cards abroad and our overview of using prepaid cards abroad.

Retrieving stolen money

After the initial worry of losing a card or having one 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, 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 is at all at fault - for example, they didn't keep their PIN secure - they can be liable for £50 of any disputed transaction. Although it's up to the card provider to prove negligence.

If a fraudulent transaction and/or gross negligence is proven it can result in the cardholder being liable for the full amount of the fraudulent transaction.

Remote fraud

It's worth noting that one of the most common forms of fraud in the UK is 'card-not-present' (CNP) fraud.

Criminals are more likely than ever to be able to access money in an account without having any tangible information about the account and card in question, such as the card itself, an image of it, or details included in bank letters.

That's because fraudsters can more easily access people's account and card details through malware, data hacks and telephone and email scams.

FFA states that in 2016 CNP fraud totalled an estimated £189.4 million, an increase of 20% from the previous year.

Remote criminal access to accounts is now so common that fraud services admit that traditional advice about protecting mail in shared buildings and the like is becoming obsolete.

In fact, fraudulent remote card purchases account for a considerably higher percentage of total payment fraud losses than lost or stolen cards.

Of all card payment fraud in 2016, 70% was the result of remote fraud compared to 16% resulting from lost or stolen cards.

So although keeping cards safe is still really important, keeping personal details protected is fast becoming more of a priority.

Card protection insurance

Finally, to further safeguard against card fraud, some people choose to take out card protection policies. These policies offer insurance against any financial loss that results from a lost or stolen card, typically for around £30-£40 per year.

Protection includes a full refund for fraud on the lost or stolen card, plus cover for other costs like replacing locks and keys, lost bags (the actual bag, not the contents) or essential documents like passports.

Although some people like to take out these policies for extra protection, seeing as most fraudulent account activity is covered in full by banks and card providers, the remaining services offered by these policies are poor value considering the annual fee.

Also, card protection companies haven't helped themselves by becoming embroiled in a mis-selling scandal.

In January 2014 a scheme was established to refund anyone who was mis-sold card protection or ID fraud protection from January 2005 onwards. As a result, these companies have paid out millions in compensation.

For more information about ID theft insurance take a look at our guide here.


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