Legal How-To: Dealing With Debit Card Fraud

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Debit card fraud is an increasing worry for those Americans who continue to use their debit cards as their primary or even sole payment method both in person and online.

Luckily there are legal safeguards that can protect your funds, your credit, and your identity from fraudsters who want to use your hard-earned funds.

Here are some tips on how to prevent debit card fraud, and what to do if it happens to you:

1. Sign Up for Fraud Alerts.

Similar to services with most major credit cards, many banks that provide a debit or ATM card with a checking account will also include a service for fraud alerts. In some cases you have to opt-in to this service, but in other cases (such as with VISA debit cards) the alerts are automatically activated.

A criminal can obtain your debit card information in many ways, and often you may still have your card in your possession when the fraud is being committed. This uncertainty is what makes fraud alerts all the more important.

With a fraud alert service activated, a phone call or email from your bank may give you a heads up on when someone is attempting to use your debit card without your permission.

Once you've been alerted, most banks will freeze the debit card account, cancel the old card, and issue a new card to your home address.

2. Report Fraudulent Charges ASAP.

Even with a fraud alert service, you may be required to report fraudulent charges as soon as possible.

Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, if you report the fraud or loss of your debit card immediately, you should not be held liable for any of the fraudulent charges on your account. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you may be held liable for part or all of the charges.

Some banks may require you to use a form -- like this one -- to report these unauthorized uses of your debit card, as well as to consent to the investigation of the person responsible.

3. Make a Police Report.

Debit card fraud is often linked to identity theft, which means even a new debit card may not mean the end to fraudulent use of your hard-earned money.

By calling the non-emergency police line and reporting the crime, you can obtain a police report and hopefully initiate an investigation against the culprit. A police report can also be helpful to refer to when reporting future debit card fraud to police and/or financial institutions.

Need More Help?

Having your debit card compromised isn't the end of the world, and you can generally resolve the issue on your own if you're prepared. But if your case is a bit more complicated, or if you're having trouble sorting out the consequences of debit card fraud, then consulting an experienced banking and finance lawyer near you may be a wise investment of your time.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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