Debit cards provide a convenient way to purchase items such as food, gas and clothes. When you use a debit card, you enter a personal identification number, or PIN, to withdraw the purchase amount from your bank account. The unauthorized use of your debit card can deplete your bank account and expose you to identity theft. If your card is lost or stolen, you can limit or eliminate your losses and prevent others from damaging your credit, but you have to act promptly by reporting the misuse of your card.
Lost or Stolen Card
Call or go to your bank as soon as you discover your card has been stolen or lost. You are not responsible for any charges made after you report your card stolen or lost. If you wait two days (not counting Saturdays, Sundays or holidays when the bank is closed) to report a lost or stolen card, the bank can hold you responsible for up to $50. If you wait longer than two days, you can lose money until you report the lost or stolen card, up to $500. Pull your online bank statement and look for purchases or withdrawals you did not make. Identify the dates and places where the card was used and the amounts.
Disputing Bank Statement
Carefully review your bank statement for errors and unauthorized uses. Contact your bank immediately if you see any such uses. You have 60 days from the date of your statement to dispute errors; if you do not, you could be responsible for all the money taken out of your account. Identify in writing the uses that are unauthorized; you may even copy and highlight the ones you contest. Send by certified mail to the address listed for disputes on your bank statement so that you have proof the bank received the dispute.
Report the use of your debit card to the police department or sheriff's office; this will create a record that you might be considered an identity theft victim. Depending on where you live, you will be asked to complete a form to detail the unauthorized use. When you report the incidents, you will need your bank account number, debit card number and a copy of a paper or online statement showing the date, place and amount of the transactions. You might have to list those people you allowed to have your debit card or PIN.
You may request that Equifax, TransUnion or Experian place a "fraud alert" on your credit report; the credit reporting agency to whom you ask for the alert must notify the other two agencies. If someone attempts to open a credit card account, borrow money, increase a credit limit or get a card on an existing account, the credit card company must try to verify that you have requested a credit card or credit limit increase or deny the request. The initial alert lasts 90 days; with a police report or other proof that you are an identity theft victim, the alert will remain for seven years.
Preventing Debit Card Misuse
Avoid carrying your PIN in your wallet or with your card or letting others use your card. You likely will not recover lost money if you allow someone, even a relative, to use your card and that person depletes your account. If you have allowed someone to use your card and suspect fraud, ask your bank to remove that person's authority to use the card.
- Iowa Office of the Attorney General: Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards: They May Look the Same, But They're Different
- Better Business Bureau: Direct and Automatic Debiting
- Federal Trade Commission: Facts for Consumers: Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What To Do If They're Lost or Stolen
- Beaumont, Texas Police Department: Credit/Debit Card Abuse Form
- California Department of Consumer Affairs: Consumer Rights in Electronic Funds Transfers: Legal Guide CR-6
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumers: Idenity Theft Victims' Statement of Rights
- Illinois Legal Aid: Is it Safe to Use My Credit & Debit Cards to Shop Online?
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumers: About Identity Theft
- GSA Federal Citizen Information Center: Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies: 2012 Consumer Action Handbook
- Equifax: Equifax Online Help: How to Set a Fraud Alert
- Experian: Fraud Prevention: Suggestions for Victims at Experian.com
Christopher Raines enjoys sharing his knowledge of business, financial matters and the law. He earned his business administration and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a lawyer since August 1996, Raines has handled cases involving business, consumer and other areas of the law.