When you see fraudulent activity on your credit card statement — often an unfamiliar charge — what is your first reaction? Reach for the phone? Cut up your cards?

When you don’t recognize a charge, it could be for a variety of reasons. It could be a fraudulent charge, but it’s also possible that a retailer bills under a different name, or maybe an authorized user on your card made the purchase without informing you. Either way — if the card was stolen or not — there are three steps you can take if you notice fraudulent activity.

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1. Research First

Before you report fraudulent activity, be sure that the purchase in question is not simply a legitimate one billed under a name you don’t recognize. Is the amount of the charge familiar? Can you call the retailer to see how they bill?

If you aren’t able to confirm the charge, the next step is to speak with any other users who have access to the card, such as other family members on a joint card or any authorized user you may have named.

2. Call the Card Issuer

If you believe the transaction in question indicates fraudulent activity, then it’s time to contact your card issuer directly. (You do not go to the merchant in question, as you would with a delivery dispute or other issue.) For example, to report fraudulent activity, Discover cardmembers would call 1-866-240-7938 to talk with a credit card fraud specialist, or could also call the Customer Service number on the back of their credit card.

Every issuer has its own procedures for handling fraud concerns, so calling the customer service number on the back of your card is a good place to start. It’s important to specify to your issuer that the origin of the charge is unknown and that you may be a victim of fraud.

To make things as easy as possible, be sure to have all the details about the charge: the name of the retailer, the date of purchase, the purchase amount and any other related factors. Providing the relevant information will make it easier for your issuer not only to identify the transaction, but also to trigger its fraud response actions.

3. What Happens Next

When fraud is suspected, your issuer typically will freeze your account immediately to prevent further unauthorized activity and the fraud team will open an investigation.

You can expect to be asked to stop using all cards, PINs and checks associated with your credit card account, because your issuer will provide you with a new card. A temporary credit will be issued to your account while the fraudulent activity is under investigation.

Discover cardmembers have a $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee, which means that they are not responsible for unauthorized purchases on their Discover card account.

Helping Ensure You’re Not a Victim

Because your digital DNA is everywhere, you should consider something to protect it. As a Discover cardmember, you have exclusive access to a powerful option for protecting your identity and personally identifiable information: Discover’s Identity Theft Protection. For a small monthly charge, this comprehensive service offers credit bureau, bank account, and Social Security number and risky website alerts, as well as email and text alerts and digital dashboard access. You can access $1M of Identity Theft Insurance — for legal expenses, reimbursement of stolen funds, lost wages and more covered expenses — and count on expert service from 100 percent U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists.

Discover’s Identity Theft Protection goes above and beyond what other similar products offer to provide credit balance, limit and utilization alerts when significant changes are reported to Experian, and verification alerts, when someone answers Experian verification questions to access or create an account in your name.

By taking advantage of the various protections that are available — and applying some common sense in how you handle your sensitive information — you can enjoy added peace of mind, while also being better protected from becoming a victim.

Originally published December 12, 2016.

Updated April 22, 2019.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.