Why Was My Credit Card Flagged?

John Ulzheimer

John Ulzheimer | Blog

Nov 24, 2014 | Updated Apr 27, 2016

At some point in all of our credit card-using lives we’ve probably heard the words, “I’m sorry but your credit card has been declined.” Having a credit card transaction unexpectedly declined at the register is embarrassing and leaves the consumer angry or concerned about fraud. The reality is that there’s a very good reason why your credit card has been flagged or blocked, and in most cases the issue can be resolved with a simple phone call.

If you’re having trouble finding the right phone number or reaching your card issuer, check out our list of Backdoor Credit Card Phone Numbers, which includes general customer service lines.

Here’s a look at what to do if your credit card has been flagged, and some of the most common reasons why your credit card account might get blocked in this way.

Fixing The Problem

Credit card holders can easily fix the problem of a flagged credit card. If a transaction is denied because it was large or unusual the card can typically be “unblocked” with one simple phone call to the credit card issuer. Better yet, if a cardholder knows that he is planning to make a large purchase then he can call and notify his card issuer ahead of time and avoid the potential embarrassment and hassle of a denied credit card transaction in the first place.

Odd Spending Habits

Thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act a credit card user cannot be held legally responsible for more than $50 in fraudulent charges on a credit card account. Additionally the four major credit card networks (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover) waive even that small liability for their customers.

As a result, credit card issuers are extremely motivated to limit fraudulent credit card charges as much as possible. One of the ways that credit card issuers do this is by monitoring the spending habits of their customers. If a customer’s card number is used in an attempt to purchase an item which the card issuer views as suspicious, then the transaction may be denied until it can be verified as a legitimate purchase.

For example, jewelry and electronics are items commonly purchased by credit card fraudsters. Therefore, if a consumer tries to splurge on a new top-of-the-line laptop his credit card transaction might be denied at the register as a precaution, especially if it’s an atypical type of charge for that particular cardholder.


Other common triggers that can cause a credit card transaction to be denied unexpectedly are travel related charges. Declining a transaction for international travel is rare, but many issuers will flag a customer’s credit card account if he tries to make charges out of the state where he currently resides, especially if it’s atypical.

Think about this scenario for a moment: a cardholder uses his card, in person, to buy gas in Houston. Two hours later the card is used to attempt to purchase a $250 gift card at a Best Buy in Los Angeles. That’s very likely to be fraudulent use of the card and will trigger a block of the card, because you simply cannot be in the two places at one time. The best way to prevent your card from being blocked while traveling is to call ahead of time and let your card issuer know where you will be going.

Infrequent Use

It’s not uncommon for a consumer to have a credit card collecting dust in his wallet. If a consumer suddenly tries to make several charges in the same day on that infrequently used card, then there is a good chance the account could be flagged by the card issuer for suspected suspicious activity.

As in the other instances mentioned above, suspicious credit card transactions are blocked as a precaution to help reduce the number of fraudulent charges for which the issuing bank may be held responsible. And while the “alert” could be a false positive, it’s going to take a call to the bank to unblock the card.

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