Debit card theft occurs when someone takes the debit card, or the debit card information, of another person in order to access the contents of their bank account. If the thief already has the person’s other information because for instance, they stole their wallet, it will be even easier for them to use a person’s debit card. And, of course, debit or credit card theft can lead to identity theft as well.

If a person’s debit, ATM, or credit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits the person’s liability for charges made without their permission. The bank or other financial institution that issued the card has to take the loss, or some of it, but this protection depends on the kind of card it is and when the loss is reported.

The Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act are the two main federal laws that deal with debit and credit card theft or loss. They offer protection from liability to the cardholder, but only if the person whose card is lost or stolen reports it to the financial institution that issued the card as soon as possible. The person should call or use the bank’s mobile app to report the loss or theft.

Under federal law the person is not responsible to pay for charges or withdrawals made without their permission if they occur after the person reports the loss. If a person does not report the loss or theft until after someone has used the card without permission, the person may have to pay some or all of those charges.

However, many banks, credit unions and other card issuers offer protection and will absorb the loss. A person should check with the issuers of their cards and ask them what their policy is regarding charges made without the card holder’s permission. Another option a person has is to check with the company that provides them with homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. A person can ask if their insurer covers them for card thefts. If not, a person should ask their insurance company to include this protection in their policy.

In any event, a person should check their account statements or their online account for the number to call in the event of loss or theft. They should also keep a close watch on their accounts for activity and call the bank or credit union if they see charges they do not recognize as their own.

A person may want to keep the customer service numbers for their bank or credit union close at hand in case they need to use them.

Then, in addition to calling, a person should follow up promptly in writing. They should send a letter to the card issuer and include their account number, the date and time when they first noticed that they did not have their card, and when they first reported the loss. A person should keep a copy of the letter and notes of calls with the bank or credit union, including the date and time of the call and the employee with whom the person spoke. Send a letter to the address used for billing disputes involving credit cards or errors involving debit cards.

Again, if a person reports the loss or theft of a debit card before it is used without the person’s authorization, they would not be liable for any charges. If a person reports the loss or theft of a debit card within 2 business days of learning of the loss or theft, they are liable for up to $50 of unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If a person waits for more than 2 business days after learning about the loss or theft to report it, but does so within 60 calendar days after their statement is sent to them, their liability for unauthorized use is limited to $500.

If a person does not report a theft or loss for over 60 calendar days after their statement is sent to them, then they are going to be liable for all the money taken from their debit card account, and possibly more, e.g. money taken from any account linked to their debit card. So, again, it pays for a person to monitor their accounts and act swiftly if unauthorized charges appear.

Is Debit Card Theft and Credit Card Theft the Same?

Theft of a debit card is different from theft of a credit card, because a person’s debit card is directly connected to their bank account. On the other hand, a credit card is not directly connected to bank accounts, and its use is limited by the credit limit on the card. Thus, the safety mechanisms for credit cards and debit cards are somewhat different.

In some cases, however, a person’s credit line and debit line may be accessed through the same card. That is, a debit card also functions like a credit card to some degree if a person chooses to use it in that way. Thus, the theft of a debit card can create problems for both their credit card account and their bank accounts. These types of thefts are often included under white collar crime laws, and they involve not only scamming the person whose card is stolen, but also the bank that issued the card.

What Are Debit Account Scams?

Besides an actual theft of a debit card or debit card information, an account theft can also occur through various types of debit account scams. For instance, a thief might pose as a telemarketer and gain access to private information through a telephone call with a victim. Or, they may visit a hospital or nursing home and obtain debit account information with a patient or resident of the facility. These types of scams are illegal and are punishable by criminal law.

Basically a person should never give any debit or credit card information over the phone to any person one does not know. Even if a person calls with a very compelling request for a contribution to a charitable cause or a political donation, a person should never give out their personal information of any kind, e.g. credit card numbers, Social Security number and the like, over the phone to a stranger.

The Federal Trade Commission offers consumers two websites to which they can go to report problems and seek guidance. If a person suspects identity theft, they should go to IdentityTheft.gov to report it and get help. And if a person believes that they have been the victim of a scam, fraud or just poor business practices, they can report it at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Debit Card Theft?

Debit card theft is a serious crime and can often result in misdemeanor or felony charges and the punishment provided in law for those crimes. You may wish to hire a criminal fraud lawyer if you have been charged with debit card theft or fraud.

If your debit or credit card has been lost or stolen, or if you have discovered unauthorized charges or withdrawals in your bank records, you may want to consult a credit lawyer. A credit lawyer is familiar with the laws and regulations regarding debit and credit card theft and your potential liability. They can also assist with any possible identity theft issues you may have if your bank account information has been compromised. Remember that it is important not to wait and to act promptly to limit your losses.