What Am I Liable For: Bank Accounts and Fraudulent Withdrawals

Different laws determine your legal remedies based on the type of bank fraud you have suffered. For example, state laws protect you against fraud committed by a thief using paper documents, like stolen or counterfeit checks. But if the thief used an electronic fund transfer, federal law applies. Many transactions may seem to be processed electronically but are still considered “paper” transactions. If you’re not sure what type of transaction the thief used to commit the fraud, ask the financial institution that processed the transaction.

Fraudulent Electronic Withdrawals

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card, or another electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers. You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is “skimmed”, that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.

If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.

• If you report the loss or theft within two business days of discovery, your losses are limited to $50.

• If you report the loss or theft after two business days, but within 60 days after the unauthorized electronic fund transfer appears on your statement, you could lose up to $500 of what the thief withdraws.

• If you wait more than 60 days to report the loss or theft, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days.

Note: Most card issuers voluntarily have agreed to limit or waive consumers’ liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card. Contact your card issuer for more information.

The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing – by certified letter, return receipt requested – so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.

After receiving your notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that it occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation – but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation. For more information, see Electronic Banking and Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What To Do If They’re Lost or Stolen at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.