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Debit & ATM Cards

The following article covers the liabilities of fraudulent activities for credit cards, ATM cards and debit cards. Many people find it easy and convenient to use credit cards and ATM or debit cards. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer procedures for you to use if your cards are lost or stolen. Limiting Your Financial Loss It is faster and easier to process financial transactions today than ever before. Thanks to the electronic age, check cards, debit cards, and ATM cards give us instant access to funds on deposit at the local bank or a financial institution miles away. This also provides an avenue of opportunity for thieves and scam artists to rapidly deplete our financial reserves as well.

There are laws in place that provide a measure of protection from total financial ruination, but you need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities should your cards be stolen or appropriated for mischief. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) are two laws implemented on a federal level that can assist individuals targeted by the criminal element. For the laws to work properly, however, you need to invoke the protective measures by doing certain things if your cards are lost or stolen such as reporting the loss or theft promptly to the issuers. Limit Your Financial Loss As soon as you discover the loss or possible theft of your credit cards and your ATM or debit cards you must immediately notify the companies that issued the cards so they will have that fact on record and can monitor the cards for unusual activities. You can usually find toll-free numbers for the 24 hour help line on the back of the card or on your billing statement.

It is a good idea to make a list of your cards, along with the account identification and the toll-free numbers, for reporting their loss. When you travel be sure to keep this information separate from the cards so you will have access to the information should you have a need to make a report while away from home. Keep a record of the companies you notified. Follow up the phone call with a letter that includes all of the pertinent information such as account number, when you noticed your card was missing, and the date you first reported the loss. As a side note, you might want to check your homeownerís insurance policy to see if it covers the liability amount you are responsible for in the case of theft. If you do not currently have such coverage, you might want to contact your insurer to include this protection in your policy. Under the Credit Card Loss or Fraudulent Charges (FCBA) act, the maximum liability for illegal use of your credit card is $50 per card. If you report the loss before any unauthorized charges are posted you cannot be held liable for any of the charges. If the charges are made using your account number, but not the card itself, you will not be held responsible for any of the charges. The FCBA specifically says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges and limits your loss to $50 of the charges made on the cards prior to you reporting them lost or stolen.

You should always review your card billing statements for errors, but following the loss or theft of the cards you should be even more diligent. If you notice anything amiss in the statement, send a letter to the card issuer along with a description of the questionable charge. Remind them of the phone call you made and the letter you previously sent notifying them of the loss or theft of the cards. There is usually a separate address on the statement to which you will direct billing errors. Do not send the letter along with your payment unless you are directed to do so by the card company. The Electronic Fraudulent Transfer Act (EFTA) also protects you from fraudulent use of your bankcards. Federal protection from loss due to unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss. For example, if you report the loss before the card is used, the EFTA protects you from any loss. If the report is made within two business days after noticing the loss you will not be responsible for more than $50 on each card. If you fail to make a report within two business days after you discover the loss, you could be held responsible for up to $500.

If you wait more than 60 days after you receive a billing statement reflecting fraudulent activity to make a report, you risk unlimited loss. For example, if you do not file a timely report on the theft of the cards, you could lose not only all of the money in the account, but also be held liable for the amount of overdraft protection you are granted. You must report unauthorized use, loss, or theft of the cards within 60 days of the mailing of your card statement or face unlimited loss. You are liable for charges made between the date of loss and the date the loss was reported. If the thief only uses your account number and not the card itself, however, you will not be held accountable for those charges. Protecting Your Cards To protect yourself against fraudulent use of your cards, you should know where they are at all times and keep them safe and secure. If your card requires a password or personal identification number (PIN), donít write the number down so the thieves will get the code along with your cards. Do not use your address, birth date, phone or Social Security number as the PIN. Commit the pass code to memory and donít share the information with anyone. In addition, the following suggestions may help you protect your credit card and ATM or debit card accounts.

For Credit and ATM or Debit Cards: * Do not reveal your account number over the phone unless you know you're dealing with a reputable company. * Never put your account number on the outside of an envelope or on a postcard. * Draw a line through blank spaces on charge or debit slips above the total so the amount cannot be changed. * Don't sign a blank charge or debit slip. * Tear up carbons and save your receipts to check against your monthly statements. * Cut up old cards - cutting through the account number - before disposing of them. * Open monthly statements promptly and compare them with your receipts. Report mistakes or discrepancies as soon as possible to the special address listed on your statement for inquiries. (For more information on the federal laws regarding FCBA and EFTA, click here) * Keep a record - in a safe place separate from your cards - of your account numbers, expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of each card issuer so you can report a loss quickly.


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