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If your card is stolen, how much are you liable for?

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A number of federal and state laws protect you when it comes to payments and billing. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), for example, holds creditors to truthful and fair billing practices. This act, along with the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), also provides some procedures to help you if your debit card is ever stolen.

If your debit card is stolen, how much are you liable for and what should you do about it? Find out more below.

Liability for debit cards and ATM cards

If someone uses your debit card and makes unauthorized charges, you could be on the hook for those amounts depending on your state, your bank and when you act. According to the EFTA, how much you can be held liable for under law depends on how long it takes you to notify your bank or other financial institution about the issue.

Here’s how the EFTA breaks down consumer liability for charges.

What happenedWhen you properly reported itHow much you’re liable for
Your card or another access device for your account was lost or stolenWithin two days of learning it was missingUp to $50 total
Your card or another access device for your account was lost or stolenUp to 60 days after a statement that would have indicated an unauthorized chargeUp to $500
Your card or another access device for your account was lost or stolenMore than 60 days after a statement that would have indicated an unauthorized chargeUp to $500 for issues within the first 60 days and full liability for charges and transfers after 60 days
Unauthorized charges or transfers that don’t involve loss or theft of card/deviceUp to 60 days after a statement that would have indicated an unauthorized charge$0
Unauthorized charges or transfers that don’t involve loss or theft of card/deviceMore than 60 days after a statement that would have indicated an unauthorized chargeFull liability for all transfers or charges occurring after the 60 day mark

Source: Federal Reserve

These liability amounts are typically much higher than they would be with credit cards. Many credit cards actually have a $0 liability policy. You can check your credit card account benefits to find out if that’s the case with yours.

It’s also worth noting that these caps are from the federal EFTA. Some states have placed lower caps on debit card liability due to complaints from consumers.

Risks of using debit cards

Using your bank card as a debit card, which typically involves entering your PIN, can be a risky move at the register or online. Some of the risks involved include:

  • The card is directly connected to your checking account. If someone is able to steal the card number and PIN, they can quickly clear out your checking account with unauthorized charges before you realize it.
  • Unauthorized charges can lead to negative account balances, causing some of your legitimate payments and charges to bounce. This can also lead to expensive overdraft fees.
  • You can be liable for more money than if a credit card is compromised, depending on the policies on your various accounts.
  • Banks can take up to 10 days to resolve claims. Even in cases where you aren’t liable for the lost money, you might not have access to your funds for more than a week.

Many times, debit cards can be run as credit at the register. This occurs when you select the option to sign for your purchase rather than use your PIN. In these cases, you might receive the same protections as with credit cards. However, you should always check your card’s fine print to understand what protections are in place.

Liability for credit cards

Liability for unauthorized credit card charges is typically much lower. The FCBA caps that liability at $50. And if you report a lost or stolen card before any charges can be made, the FCBA mandates that you aren’t liable for any charges. Many credit card companies simply have a policy of $0 liability for these reasons.

What to do when your card is lost or stolen

If your debit or credit card is stolen, you should take immediate action to limit your liability. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your bank and other statements regularly so you can see if any unauthorized transactions are occurring and report them.

Report the loss or theft immediately

Look for a 24-hour customer service or reporting number. Use that number to report the loss of your card immediately. The Federal Trade Commission also suggests that you:

  • Send a letter or email to follow up with your phone call for documentation purposes.
  • Check your statements carefully for unauthorized charges and report them.
  • Look at your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. In some cases of theft, your insurance policy might cover what charges you do end up being liable for.

It’s important to take these steps even if you think your card was simply misplaced or lost. Report it as lost so it can be canceled and a new card sent to you.

Report fraudulent transactions

Even if your card is still in your wallet, if you see fraudulent transactions on your statements, report them immediately. This limits your liability and lets your bank take proactive approaches to protect your account in the future.

Protecting yourself going forward

  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card when possible.
  • Check your accounts often and review all statements for potential fraudulent charges.
  • Set up account alerts so you get texts when cards are used—that way you know immediately if a charge occurs that you didn’t make.
  • Protect secure information such as account numbers, card numbers and PINs by not sharing them with anyone and not using them online when you’re on an unsecured public network.
  • Cut up old cards to keep someone from trying to use them.
  • Shred old statements rather than just throwing them away.

If you decide to use your credit card more because it has more protections against fraud, ensure you’re following sound financial management strategies. For example, you don’t want to rack up a lot of debt just because you’re trying to cut down on fraud. Use your card only for what you can afford to buy now, and ensure you’re paying off the balance regularly.

You may also want to keep an eye on your credit. That lets you understand how your credit card use is impacting your score. But credit monitoring and other services also give you more protection against fraud, because in some cases, the identity thieves don’t use an existing account to make charges—instead, they open a new account in your name.

Learn more about protecting and fixing your credit and what your rights are under the Fair Credit Reporting Act at CreditRepair.com.

Posted in Finance
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