When someone else uses your physical credit card or your account information to make purchases or withdraw cash without your permission, it means you're the victim of credit card theft. Though you might think this is the type of thing that happens to other people and not you, credit card fraud is actually one of the most common types of identity theft.
Whether someone got your card information through a skimmer, a phishing scam, malware, or other means, or they physically stole your card, you might be wondering whether the police will be of any help. When the theft is a smaller amount, such as under $500, you might wonder if it's worth filing a report at all.
In this article, we'll take a look at what you need to know about how law enforcement agencies respond to credit card fraud and identity theft.
Whether police will investigate credit card theft of any kind is going to depend on whether you file a police report, the specific policies of the particular police department, and more.
This means that there really isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
In general, police departments will typically investigate credit card theft cases regardless of how much money is involved. That being said, local laws and department priorities can impact the threshold for initiating an investigation.
Even though you might assume that the police might not care about a small amount of credit card theft, the truth is that these types of crimes typically lead to further fraudulent activities. Therefore, it's common for law enforcement agencies to take credit card theft seriously.
One of the things that makes it impossible to say definitively whether a police department will investigate credit card theft of any amount is the inherent jurisdictional issues involved.
If your credit card was physically stolen from you, that's one thing. It is then clearly a local crime. However, things get more complicated if your card information was stolen online or you have no idea how the thief got a hold of it.
Suppose someone else has obtained and used your personal or financial information without your permission. In that case, you will generally want to contact your local police department or sheriff's office in order to file a police report.
The FDIC recommends that you call the local police when you discover unauthorized credit card charges in addition to notifying the:
Filing a police report can help you during the process of contesting the charges with your credit card company. This can be another piece of evidence you can show them to prove that you didn't make the charges yourself.
Having a police report on file can also be useful if the fraudster ends up committing further identity theft using your information. No matter how small an initial theft is, a far bigger problem can be indicated by minor crimes like credit card theft under $500.
At the end of the day, law enforcement agencies will only know that the crime occurred if you file a report with them. Of course, noticing unauthorized charges on your credit card doesn't call for using emergency 911 lines-- it's best to use the business number for your local police.
Even if there's a slim chance that the police will pursue your case, there are some good reasons to still file a police report for identity theft.
Filing a police report for identity theft is a way to declare your own innocence and provide a sworn statement that you aren't responsible for purchases or crimes committed in your name.
This is essentially a way to create an official document that states that your credit card information has been stolen and you aren't responsible for any crimes or purchases that the criminal made using your identity.
Filing a police report can also be a useful action in order to help you dispute fraudulent charges. In many, but not all, cases, recovering from credit card fraud is more about cleaning up the damage and protecting yourself rather than actually catching the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, the reality is that you can find a great deal of variation in terms of how helpful any given police department is.
If this is the response you get, the officer or individual that you're speaking with is not necessarily trying to shirk responsibility. There just can sometimes be confusion in terms of whether this is an issue that involves police.
Another issue you might run into in some areas is that officers can, in some places, view credit card fraud as a somewhat victimless crime. This is, according to some experts, much more common in places where there's a lot of violent crimes.
If you try to contact the police department and they tell you it isn't necessary to file a report, it's a good idea to persist in your efforts. All this being said as credit card fraud has become more common, law enforcement offices have started to take it more seriously.
The processes that different police departments use can vary quite a bit. Generally, though, after you file a report the case will be reviewed by a detective. At that point, they'll decide what the next steps are or if they're going to take any at all.
If it is a case that could be actively investigated and solved, they'll be much more likely to follow through and pursue it. Their overall caseload, however, can impact how aggressively they act.
Cases are typically ranked based on how much data is available. The more information there is, such as if the suspect is known, the more likely it will be pursued. In big cities where there are commonly more serious offenses taking place, credit card fraud can end up falling to the bottom of the pile.
Unfortunately, some criminals are smart enough to know the laws in their area in terms of what makes credit card fraud a felony. Though laws can vary quite a bit, some states will have a dollar amount that makes credit card fraud a felony versus a misdemeanor.
Beyond that, credit card fraud can sometimes be a federal crime if it affects interstate or foreign commerce. If this occurs, the crime is a felony and can carry much more severe penalties than at the state level. For example, if a perpetrator were caught and prosecuted for using a credit card fraudulently, they could face up to two decades in prison.
Whether or not credit card fraud under $500 is a felony depends on your state. Check out our guide to credit card fraud laws to learn more.
You can file a police report if you believe you are a credit card fraud victim. This can be a good idea in order to create a sworn statement that you are innocent of any crimes committed in your name and that you didn't make the purchases made using your card.
If you are skeptical of going through the trouble of filing a police report, you might feel a bit more compelled to do so if any of the following are true:
Whether someone has your physical credit card in their possession or you've noticed suspicious charges on your account, there are a few steps you'll want to take once you've decided to file a police report.
When you go to your local police department, they'll often ask for your FTC report. You can save an extra trip by doing this ahead of time and bringing it with you.
You can use the online tool at IdentityTheft.gov to file a report. You'll need to prove your identity by including personal information. Everything you enter will become a part of a secure online database, and you have some choice regarding how much personal info you enter.
Once you've finished, print out the report and keep a copy for yourself. If you'd rather file your report over the phone, you can use their hotline at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
In addition to your FTC report, you'll also want to bring your ID in order to prove that you are who you say you are.
It's a good idea to bring the following along with you to the police station:
Bring credit card statements or any other evidence you have to show that you're the victim of credit card fraud.
If you had any interaction with the scammer, for example, if you fell victim to a phishing scheme, bring printouts of any communication you had with them as well.
Depending on where you are, you might find that the individuals you interact with at the police department seem disinterested in your case. They even might try to hurry you through filing your report.
This can be frustrating, but these cases can garner this type of reaction because identity theft and credit card fraud cases can be very difficult to prosecute in some cases. Another potential explanation is that they have a lot of other cases, including those that involve violent crimes and perceive ID theft and credit card fraud as less pressing.
Despite this, you will want to be persistent. At the same time, it's important to stay calm. Try not to get frustrated or overwhelmed, and clearly state the chain of events as you know them. You will want to show them the evidence you've gathered and ask for a copy of your police report.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of paperwork when it comes to recovering from credit card fraud and identity theft. You will help make the process a lot easier for yourself by keeping detailed notes, including the names of the police officers that took your report and the day you filed your report.
Keep a file with all relevant documents regarding your credit card fraud. Your credit card issuer or other financial institutions might want to see your police report when you're disputing fraudulent purchases, so make sure you hold on to it.
You can ask the police officers what the next steps are in the case. Depending on the specifics of your situation, they might tell you there's not much they can do. Regardless, you can ask them when a good time to follow up would be if you don't hear anything.
Before I sign off, let's take a look at some common related questions having to do with credit card theft.
Credit card fraud is considered a form of identity theft. This is because the person who steals the card or card information is pretending that they are the account holder when they make a purchase or other action.
There are two primary ways that thieves will commit credit card fraud. These are:
When it comes to credit card application fraud, fraudsters can create a fake identity by combining a real person's personal information with fake information, actually steal someone else's identity entirely, or convince someone to add them as an authorized user to make fraudulent purchases.
If you are able to identify the person that stole your credit card, then it is definitively a local matter that the police will be more likely to follow through with.
On the other hand, if someone stole your credit card information digitally and it's unclear who they are or where they are, police will be less likely to investigate. At that point, it's unclear whether it's even a local matter. That being said, filing a police report can still be a good idea to create a paper trail.
Unfortunately, many victims are unwilling to identify the person who stole their credit card, particularly when it is a loved one. In these cases, it's common for drug addiction to be the reason for the theft. The police department could, in such a case, say that it's a family matter and perhaps encourage the individual to cancel their card.
Whether or not police will actively investigate credit card theft under $500 will depend on a number of factors. That being said, filing a police report can be a good idea, even if you are pretty sure they won't follow up.
When it comes to credit card theft and fraud, prevention is the best cure. Taking steps to protect your financial information online can help protect you from malicious individuals that want to take over your credit card accounts or open new accounts in your name.
At the same time, there is always only so much you can do to protect your information. If you've been the victim of credit card fraud, you'll want to turn your attention toward reducing the damage and repairing your credit.
For more information about improving your credit, make sure you check out our Credit Building Tips blog.