If someone steals your credit or debit card — or just your account number — and uses it to make purchases, will your card company hold you liable? The answer may depend on the type of card, whether the physical card is still in your possession and when you alert the card issuer.
If your card is lost or stolen and you report it to the card provider before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges. Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But note that either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.
When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.
If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.
But if you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was mailed, you could be liable for all charges.
What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is mailed to report it and still avoid liability.
Lower protections required on debit cards may make you wonder if you’re safer using a credit card. But some debit card companies offer protections that go above what the law requires. If you’re unsure about your liability for unauthorized charges, contact your card issuer.