Maybe I shouldn’t be putting this information out there for just anyone to read because if it falls into the wrong hands it could be used wrongly. But for the rest of you take what I’m about to tell you as a caution.
We all get new credit or debit cards in the mail and they always have that paper sticker that instructs you to activate it by calling a toll free number from your home phone. Right? Right, you know the drill. And you probably assume that until you’ve called the activation line the card is dormant and secure. Right? Well, maybe, but not always.
It’s true that if someone should try to use some unactivated cards them they would be declined, but that’s not true for all cards. Some “unactivated” cards are actually live and could be used.
"Very few banks send out a card that can't be used, at least in low-risk situations," says Scott Stevenson, founder and CEO of Eliminate ID Theft, a credit protection service. "But I'd bet most Americans think you cannot use a card unless you call and activate it."
That means that someone could come along and take a card out of your mailbox and use it. You’ll probably never know if your card is actually inactive or not. Credit card companies, of course, tend not to disclose this information. Some cards allow only small purchases as a convenience to continue service for customers. A small purchase might be anything under $200. A few card companies do not set limits and a few others completely lock down their cards until activation.
So why do they bother with the sticker at all? Mostly it’s a fraud precaution. The activation procedure lets the card issuer know that the card has reached your home. It also can discourage would be thieves.
Whenever you receive a new card in the mail, first check to see that no one has tampered with the envelope. Then activate it and store it either in your wallet or a locked unit. Don’t leave unactivated cards lying around in your to-do pile. Remember, a large percentage of identity theft is committed by someone who knows the victim.
Oh, and if you’ve taken out a credit card that you only want to use for emergencies (not carry in your wallet) do be sure to activate it. If the card issuer sees that you haven’t activated a card after it’s been sent they will deactivate it for security purposes—usually after about one month.