In 2012, over 16 million Americans were victims of identity theft, according to the Department of Justice. With such high numbers, you might be concerned about the effects of a stolen credit card. You typically can't sue a merchant for not checking your credit card signature, though, and in some cases merchants are banned from verifying your identity.
Credit Card Law Basics
Every state establishes its own credit card guidelines, and different credit card companies have varying contracts with their merchants. In general, however, a store has no legal obligation to check either identification or signatures. Even if it's store policy to check, the store hasn't broken the law if an individual employee forgets to check. In some states, your credit card does not even have to be signed.
You can sue for just about anything. The question is whether your suit will be dismissed for failure to state a claim. In cases of credit card theft, a suit against a store will inevitably fail. The reason is simple. The store is under no legal obligation to check signatures, and is not the party that caused your card to be stolen. Consequently, suits against the store -- unless the store has broken the law by giving your card information to a third party or not properly securing your information -- will be unsuccessful, and could even cause the judge to award attorney's fees or court costs to the store.
Even if the store did break the law, you'll only be able to sue if you can show you suffered damages as a result of the breach. Under federal law, you're only liable for up to $50 if you promptly notify the card company of the missing or compromised card. Many card companies even waive this small sum. Consequently, you might not have any damages over which you can sue.
Suing the Proper Party
Although you won't typically be able to sue the store, you can sue the person who stole your card. In such a suit, you could recover your actual damages, attorney's fees, court costs and -- in some states -- punitive damages. If your card company refuses to honor your agreement and waive your liability for unauthorized purchases, you also may be able to sue them to enforce your contract.
- Consumer Law, Cases and Materials, 4th Edition; John A. Spanogle Jr. et al.
- CreditCards.com: Can Retailers Ask for ID With Your Credit Card?
- Bureau of Justice Statistics: Victims of Identity Theft, 2012
- The Consumerist: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Your Credit Card
- Nolo: Your Liability for Unauthorized Credit and Debit Card Charges
- Coresight Research. "Retail Store Databank." Accessed Aug. 6, 2020.
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Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.