Financial fraud is an unfortunate part of life in the modern age, but there are ways to combat it even if someone manages to purchase something with your checking or credit account. If you notice suspicious or unauthorized transactions on your account, what should you do?
Call your financial institution right away
The first thing you should do after you notice an unauthorized transaction on your account is call your financial institution. All major institutions have a department devoted to handling theft and fraud, and the quicker you act, the more likely you are to be able to mitigate your losses. “If you report a fraudulent charge within two days, you can’t be held responsible for more than $50 in charges,” writes Casey Bond, personal finance reporter, in an article for U.S. News & World Report. If you wait more than 60 days to dispute the transaction, you will likely be unable to avoid paying for it.
As soon as this is done, remember to update any automatic payments you may have set up with the compromised account.
Use the number on your card
When calling your financial institution, make sure to use the number at the back of your debit or credit card. If the card in question is missing, look for a support number on the institution’s official website only. “Fraudsters are known to set up fake support numbers to get account holder information,” Bond warns. She adds that if your financial institution calls you to notify you of a fraud attempt and asks for personal information, you should hang up and call a trusted number instead.
You may have to make a written statement
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, after you notify your financial institution of unauthorized transactions, they will have 10 business days to investigate (or 20 if your account is less than a month old), one business day to correct an error after determining that one has occurred, and three business days to report their findings to you. If it is unable to complete the investigation within the 10-20 business days, “it must generally issue a temporary credit to your account for the amount of the disputed transaction.” However, before it does so, it may require that you provide a written confirmation of the unauthorized transactions you described on the phone. Doing this preemptively via either written or emailed letter can help your cause while disputing the charges. Once a written statement is received, the CFPB says the financial institution has between 45 to 90 days to resolve the issue based on various factors.
Identify how someone else accessed your account
You must identify how someone was able to get their hands on your information to avoid future unauthorized transactions to your account. You may have simply lost your card, but criminals have other methods for acquiring private information besides relying on other people’s sheer misfortune. “Criminals also set up card skimmers and hidden cameras to steal your account number and PIN at places like ATMs and gas pumps,” Bond says. She also cautions against social engineering, which is when a fraudster reaches out to a potential victim posing as an authority figure (such as a financial institution), gains their trust, and obtains information to access their account.
Because time is of the essence when it comes to disputing unauthorized transactions, it’s a good idea to routinely monitor and review your account statements and online transactions. If you notice suspicious activity on your account, calling your financial institution right away should lead to the best possible outcome.