Your worst nightmare has come true: someone has stolen your debit card. What began with one or two unexplained charges has spiraled into a near-emptying of your bank account—and worst of all, your bank is saying that they won’t reimburse you for the full amount of the transactions. Is there any way to get your money back, even if they cannot track down the person responsible?
How to Get Identity Theft Protection for Online Charges
You may be able to dispute the charges someone else has made using your account under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). Although this law was passed in 1978 to protect consumers from financial abuse over phone lines, it applies to nearly all electronic ways to make purchases, pay bills, and manage finances.
The act applies to all transactions that withdraw money immediately from your account electronically, including:
- Debit card purchases. One of the first actions a thief will take after stealing a bank card is to use it for online purchases or to buy goods in retail store (usually to sell for cash). As long as you dispute these purchases within the allotted time limit, you are not liable for the amount. However, the EFTA does not protect purchases made with gift cards, prepaid phone cards, and other cards with a stored value.
- ATM withdrawals. If the thief has access to your PIN number, he or she may use an automatic teller machine (ATM) to directly access the money in your account.
- Phone payments. A thief may attempt to order goods and services using your card over the phone. The EFTA helps prevent fraud by requiring that you confirm your identity by asking several specific questions before they may authorize payments or funds transfers.
- Internet purchases. The Internet is a limitless resource for thieves to commit account fraud. Not only can they shop online, they can also access your bank accounts through your financial institution’s website, enabling them to transfer funds to other accounts.
Reporting Fraudulent Purchases After Suspected Identity Theft
Under the provisions of the EFTA, a person has 60 days to report any unauthorized or disputed transactions to his or her bank. Since customers may receive their statements electronically or in print, the law allows the time limit to begin on the date of the first bank statement that contains the disputed transaction.
After you notify your bank of the fraudulent purchase, the bank has 10 business days to investigate your claim. In most cases, consumers cannot be held liable for more than $50 of the unauthorized transactions. If a bank is holding you responsible for a fraudulent charge, you should have an attorney investigate your claim as soon as possible. Click the contact link on this page to consult with an experienced consumer law attorney.