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What To Do With a Lost Credit or Debit Card

Written by Nickel - 18 Comments

What To Do With a Lost Credit or Debit CardHave you ever wondered what you should do if you find a lost credit or debit card? We ran into this situation over the weekend, and I thought it would make for an interesting discussion topic.

Finding a lost card

We took the boys to see a movie on Saturday. My wife and I were out and about separately, so we decided to meet at the theater. She got there first with our oldest, so she went in to save seats.

As I walked our younger three across the parking lot, our five year old said “Daddy, there’s a credit card on the ground under Mommy’s car.” Sure enough, when I got down to his level, I spotted it.

When I fished it out, I discovered that it was actually a debit card. Unsure of what to do, I headed into the theater. I wasn’t comfortable turning in an active card at the box office, but I also didn’t want to just throw it away or hang onto it until later.

Doing the right thing

Our eight year old jokingly (I hope!) said “Cool, now we can financially ruin them.” But instead, I decided to do the right thing. I started by trying to look up the owner using my iPhone, but I came up empty.

Since the movie was about to start, I decided to call the number on the back of the card and simply report it as lost. Once I reached a rep – harder than you’d think without a PIN code – I told her I had found a card and wanted to report it lost.

The rep took down the number and said they’d place a hold on the account until they heard from the owner. I then turned the card in at the box office just in case the owner came back looking for it.

What would you have done?

So, dear readers… What would you have done if you were in my shoes? Left it lying there on the ground? Turned the card in at the box office? Called to cancel it? Cut it up and threw it away? Go on a shopping spree?

(I’m kidding about that last one.)

As an interesting aside, we found this card maybe 200 yards from where we found $1100 cash about 12 years ago. I guess we should hang out there more often!

Published on August 9th, 2010
Modified on August 10th, 2010 - 18 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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18 Responses to “What To Do With a Lost Credit or Debit Card”

  1. 1
    Kelli Says:

    The same thing happened to me about a month ago. I did the same thing you did in looking up the owner and was successful in finding a phone number via google. It was an old card so I just shredded it for them, but they were appreciative of my efforts to return it.

  2. 2
    Tim of Angle Says:

    Stress it along the line of the mag strip to make it unusable, then take it home and shred it. That eliminates the possibility that the owner will receive any unpleasant surprises.

  3. 3
    craig Says:

    If possible to find out the contact information, then it would be nice to do the right thing and mail it back to them, without asking for any find reward of course.

  4. 4
    kev Says:

    If the debit card was issued from a large area bank (like a 5/3 in my area) then I probably would have taken it to one of the billion branches close to me so that they could have contacted their customer. If it would have been a bank I didn’t recognize then I would have done the same thing as you.

    I was more interested in your $1,100.00 dollar find though (a post that I have never read before). A wallet containing $1,100.00 and no ID?! You are a much better man than me, sir.

  5. 5
    Jill Says:

    If it’s a card I call the number on back and report it. I do it to follow the Golden Rule. I would hope if it was my card the finder would be honorable. But some lenders will actually give a reward to a finder because it’s cheaper than dealing with the fallout of identity theft. If it’s cash, I keep it. However, if it was the $1100 you found, I’d wait a week and see if there was any media attention from the true owner.

  6. 6
    Olivia Says:

    In a similar situation I just dropped it off at the police station.

  7. 7
    HTK Says:

    Cut it up — toss in trash.

    KISS principle.

    It’s simplest solution that immediately protects the card owner.

    The card will be inactivated anyway… as soon as the owner reports it lost/stolen.

    Why automatically trust the guy working at the movie theater ? I don’t trust the cops either in such situations.

  8. 8
    Leigh Says:

    It was good to call it in, but probably not so good to leave the card with random people working at a movie theatre. I would have destroyed the card rather than risk someone misusing it or the information.

  9. 9
    smartcredit Says:

    Wow, people who post here are great Samaritans. I always thought that the right thing to do was to call the 800 number on the back of the card, but after reading some of the comments, I now plan to shred any credit card/debt cards that I come across. I might call the 800 number, then shred the cards. I wouldn’t leave it with the police or the clerk (who might be a crook for all I know.)

    Reminds me of my own experience. I forgot my wallet with CC and driver’s license on the counter of Walgreens. The clerk turned it in for me and two weeks later, when I called WG, they checked and said that the wallet was at their lost and found. No one made any charges to my CC account, which I monitored online during the entire two weeks when I was searching for my CC. I could have called to cancel the CC but I did not want to deal with a new card number when I was “sure that my card is in my house.”

  10. 10
    Nickel Says:

    HTK/Leigh/smartcredit: I’m not sure I see the risk of turning it in after I called the bank to report it lost. Nothing bad can happen at that point, and the person who lost it might give the person who lost it a bit of peace if they come back looking for it. Either way, the card has been reported lost, so they’re protected.

  11. 11
    Bob Says:

    Interesting and something I will think about next time.

    Over my lifetime, I’ve found three purses. First time I was a student so I heading to my on-campus job and turned it into a work supervisor – Do a good deed but not want to get involved. Did not even look in. Embarrassed to carry a purse over my shoulder running to work.

    The second time, I found a purse ( credit cards, passbooks, everything – could see cash taken ) on way to work. Took it to work and found the person from license. She was an older retired person but her husband answered the phone. They were so happy that they asked me what was inside. Happy credit cards and passbooks there. Someone broke in that morning and took the purse as the husband came downstairs. I wanted to turn it into the police but I was 40 miles from home. Better turn it in and have them get it.

    They wanted me to KEEP it until they returned from a cruise the next week. I said I think its not a good idea but they said happy honest people in the world. I said no no – you need to report the cards lost/stolen even if I found the purse. They kept saying how happy they were as they hung up. I was stunned. I called back shortly because I did not think it was a good idea. I apologized but I said I have to turn it in to the police here near work or I am willing to turn it into the local police at home. I did not feel good holding on to it.

    The compromise – yeah – I asked for a compromise as they were refusing – was that I hold it until late that night around 7 p.m. as they would pick it up after their packing. I sat looking out the window waiting for them to come and more than glad to turn it over to the husband. I was made responsible for it and I admit hated the feeling.

    The last time 2-3 years ago in a store, a purse – I walked it into customer service. I heard keys so I knew the woman could not leave. I held it out in front of me like a muddy shoe as I walked through the store.

    I want to do the right thing but purses are such an issue with all the stuff inside. I guess I don’t want to be the one seen going through it. Don’t even want the hint of being ‘bad’ while doing good.

    I have to think about it but turning it in seems most likely you will not be nailed at the person having ‘taken’ it. Seen too much evil in the world.

  12. 12
    smartcredit Says:

    Bob, your experience with the couple who “burdened” you reminds me of the adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” If you held on to the purse and items for a week (or longer if their trip were extended due to delay, accident, illness, death, etc.), they might accuse you of taking certain items. Not good.

    If I found one CC/debit card, I would call the 800 number to cancel it, then shred it for the owner.

    If I found a purse, I would look in the bag for identifying information and if it was easy to locate the party, I would call them and say, “we found your purse at X company on 123 Brown St. We are holding it at the lost and found dept. if you want to pick it up. Ask for my secretary Mary when you come.”

    Some people don’t understand that you are not obligated to go out of your way to help them. IF someone lost a purse, it is THEIR obligation to pick up their belongings.

  13. 13
    Pamela Says:

    This happens a few times a year where I work. I always call the number on the back of the card. Those who doubt leaving it at the movie theater..the card is already reported as lost..they can’t use it!!!!

  14. 14
    Homer Says:

    Be careful of sting operations. The New York City police department regularly runs sting operations where they deliberately drop money, wallets, purses, and other valuables in public places (subway stations, department stores, bars, etc) and wait for someone to pick them up. Apparently New York law requires lost articles to be returned immediately to a police officer. If the person picking it up doesn’t immediately hand it to a nearby police officer, they get arrested. If they do hand it to police officer, they get frisked and their ID gets run.

    Seattle airport police ran a similar notorious sting some years ago and I’m sure other police departments have run similar non-publicized operations.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....s_hav.html

  15. 15
    Jamie Says:

    I would call the number and report it lost, and then shred it. It puts a freeze on the account, but shredding is a double safeguard.

    The person could have went back and got it and told the bank it was found and someone else could have written down the number. Or someone could use the identity on the card. There are credit card rewriters which will put any CC number on the magnetic strip of another. And most likely they could copy the person’s signature from the back of the card too. Just because it’s got a freeze doesn’t mean it’s safe.

  16. 16
    Dan Says:

    When I worked as a manager at a McDonald’s a few years ago, an employee of mine found a credit card in the lobby of our store and turned it in to me. I figured the easiest thing to do would be to call the number on the back and they could get in contact with the person for me. It took awhile to get to a real person, then I was transferred to another because I wasn’t the owner of the card and this person couldn’t talk to me for some reason. Eventually, I was told to take it to the nearest Chase bank. It was only a few miles away, but it was out of my way. It was more of a hassle than I was hoping for, but I’d rather do that than have the person worried about it.

  17. 17
    Rafael Says:

    It just happened, and I immediately called the bank. I chose the option to notify a lost card, but got stuck several times when asked SS# or tax ID. Banks should have a courtesy option for found lost cards, my honest opinion. Anyhow, got the call answered. The representative got the card number and asked to thrash it. I actually shredded it.

    Don’t expect to be highly praised, you are a “hard to find honest person” even if you don’t hear a single word of thanks (I actually thanked them for getting my call.)

    Well, the feeling and the assurance that you can do what is right even when opportunities happen is wordless.

  18. 18
    Sin City Says:

    I live in Las Vegas in the nightclub industry. Over the years I have found many (over 50) wallets, purses, cameras, phones, keys, credit cards and just about anything else people carry with them. Although I do turn in most of the items to security or lost and found… I usually keep the cash that’s inside as a reward. I would expect the same thing from a person if it ever happened to me. Keep the money, give back the rest (ID, CC, etc…).
    Men are much more likely to offer a tip/reward for returning their stuff. Women on the other hand, are much less likely to give a reward so I just keep the money to avoid bein stiffed.

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