By Adam Jusko, ProudMoney.com, adam@proudmoney.com

If your credit card has been stolen — regardless of whether it has been physically stolen or someone has stolen the card number while you still have the card in your possession — it is very unlikely the police are going to do anything to pursue the criminal. Even filing a police report will usually be a waste of your time and theirs, unless your credit card company absolutely demands it (which they won’t in almost every circumstance).

Here’s why. Finding a credit card thief is extremely difficult, and the police won’t see the crime as harmful enough to be worth the effort. In addition, most credit card companies will shut down your credit card quickly if they believe there is fraud, long before enough can be spent with the card to make the crime truly impactful. As soon as the card-issuing bank sees purchase behavior that doesn’t seem to coincide with your regular purchases, they will either stop new purchases from being approved, or they will contact you to be sure the charges are legitimate. (And if they can’t reach you, they’re much more likely to decline new charges than to wait around for you to reply.)

Credit card theft is a cost of doing business for the credit card companies. They know a certain amount of theft will occur, so they put in as many safeguards as possible on their end to stop criminals before they can spend much. But the money they believe you and other cardholders will spend on the cards far outweighs the fraudulent purchases from theft — so they are willing to take the bad with the good. History has shown credit cards are extremely profitable for the banks, even after the costs of theft are factored in.

Also, under federal law, you can not be held responsible for more than $50 of fraudulent charges if your card is physically stolen, and none at all if the number is stolen while you still have the card (such as via the Internet). Most credit card issuers never pursue even that small amount from their cardholders — keeping you as a happy cardholder is more important (and more profitable) than trying to get 50 bucks from you for unauthorized charges. So, if you essentially have lost nothing from your card being stolen, why would the police spend any time investigating the theft?



When The Police Will Investigate

Perhaps the only time police will investigate credit card theft is when there is a pattern of multiple thefts in a particular area, usually as a result of a credit card theft ring that is operating as a larger criminal enterprise. Even then, it may not be the local police that pursue the thieves. It would more likely be the FBI, and they would likely be investigating after getting information from the credit card companies themselves about a pattern of thefts in a certain area.

When Banks Might Make You File A Police Report

Probably the only time you’ll need to file a police report over a credit card theft is if your credit card company doesn’t believe your claim of theft. When would they be suspicious of your claim? Most likely if you made a large purchase and then claimed theft, or if you’ve claimed theft repeatedly.

Most credit card thieves attempt to use credit cards as fast as possible, and usually for relatively low sums of money in order to avoid detection. They buy up gift cards or gas, or, if they’re very small-time criminals, they just use your card to drink for the night at the bar and then ditch the card. What they don’t do is buy a new couch or a bed or a refrigerator. If you claim credit card theft after a big-ticket item is purchased, your credit card issuer could require a police report from you in order to have that theft “on the record,” forcing you to put yourself in some legal jeopardy if you are lying. Likewise, if you claim credit card theft multiple times in a relatively short period of time (say, two or three times in a year), the bank might want a police report to, again, force you “on the record” with your complaint.

Credit Card Theft vs. Identity Theft

Having your credit card stolen is one thing, but having your identity stolen is another matter entirely. Filing a police report when a single credit card is stolen and used fraudulently is rarely necessary. But if someone is using your personal information to open up new card accounts or otherwise make purchases that are being billed to you, that’s when you definitely need to go to the police. The longer someone uses your personal data fraudulently, the harder it is to get it all sorted out. You want police investigating as soon as possible. You’ll still need to contact the credit card company (or companies) involved, but you’ll want the police involved as well to demonstrate that you emphatically deny being the person making the fraudulent purchases.