Advertiser Disclosure

Credit Cards, Identity Theft Protection

When Banks Can Refuse to Refund Fraudulent Debit Card Charges

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

ATM

Typically, debit cards that are used as “credit” are offered the same protections as credit cards. This means that if you use your debit card in a store and choose “credit” instead of entering your PIN number, you should receive the same protections as if you used an actual credit card. However, we do encourage you to double check the fine print your bank provides on this matter before assuming your debit card will receive those protections.

But here’s a scenario where your debit card is riskier than your credit card. If you withdrawal money at an ATM (or any store doing cash back) using your PIN number, you have additional risk. If someone steals your pin number with a skimming device at an ATM, then he has direct access to your money. This isn’t like credit card fraud with obnoxious charges you need to dispute. This is your hard-earned cash being taken directly out of your checking account. And if you aren’t careful, you might not be able to recoup your losses.

So, what can you expect if you are a victim of debit card fraud?

Timeline for Being Able to Get Your Money Back

If you are a victim of debit card fraud, you are responsible for the following:

  • $0 if you report the loss or fraud immediately and the card has not been used,
  • Up to $50 if you notify your bank within 48 hours of your lost or stolen card,
  • Up to $500 if you notify the bank with 48 hours and 60 days of your lost or stolen card, and
  • All of the fraudulent charges if you don’t notify the bank until after 60 days.

It’s important you don’t delay in reporting the fraud to your bank if you want to be able to get all of your money back. If you were the victim of theft because the crook skimmed your info and used your PIN, then you may be on the hook for the $50 because you couldn’t report to the bank before the card was used. You didn’t know it had happened until the strange transaction showed up!

It may seem unfair to be responsible for charges that you did not actually charge yourself, but to avoid that scenario and protect yourself, consider taking the following precautionary actions.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

To protect yourself against debit card fraud, you should do the following:

  • Only use an ATM inside a bank (this will lesson the likelihood that a scanner is on an ATM)
  • Cover your hand when you type your pin into an ATM (to protect yourself against any devices attached to the ATM from getting your PIN)
  • Set up text alerts for each transaction over $0.01 on your card. This way you’ll be immediately alerted if a bogus charge is made
  • Monitor your bank on a regular basis (so you can give notice of fraud immediately)
  • Report stolen funds immediately (so you’re not responsible for the charges)
  • Check-in annually with your bank as to the policies regarding debit card theft (know whether your debit card is specifically protected and to what extent)

While you can notify the bank by phone, it is best to get everything in writing. For purposes of the time requirement, notice is considered given when you put the letter in the mail. It’s even better if you send the mail certified. You can, of course, send notice by mail and call. Whatever you do, keep a record of your communications you have with the bank. This will put you in the best position if you have to escalate your problem.

Remember that if you take the actions listed above, you will be more protected than you otherwise would. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, like in the example above, you can still find yourself stuck with fraud charges that your bank won’t reverse. These specific steps will help you protect yourself, even when you’re not at fault. This is particularly important if you use your debit card frequently.

Don’t want to use a credit card? Learn how to survive with just debit cards here. 

Debit vs. Credit: How to Decide

Using a debit card forces you to keep your spending in check because you cannot spend more than you have in the bank. However, it may be riskier than using a credit card for the reasons described above. Discover, for example, now offers a Freeze It® on/off switch for your account. If you’re concerned because you’ve lost your card, you can temporarily freeze your account and Discover will not authorize new purchases, cash advances or balance transfers.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Intro BT APR

0% for 18 months

Balance Transfer Fee

3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

Regular APR

13.49% - 24.49% Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

If you’re not sure which is best for you, ask yourself what do you value more – your spending being limited or the additional protections from fraud. If you can control your spending, then you may be better off with a credit card. If you are a spender, however, then take the additional steps listed above to make sure you fully understand your specific liability in the event of debit card fraud. If you feel your bank is behaving unethically and should be refunding you, then reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to file a complaint.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Natalie Bacon
Natalie Bacon |

Natalie Bacon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Natalie at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure

Identity Theft Protection

How to Freeze a Credit Report After Someone Dies 

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

parent death_lg

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. While loss is a natural part of life and we may expect it, death often overwhelms us with shock, depression and confusion. Sadly, when you’re in this vulnerable state, there are identity thieves looking to prey on your dulled awareness. They do so by stealing the identity of the deceased and fraudulently opening credit card accounts, applying for loans and obtaining service contracts.

This concept, sometimes called “ghosting,” is a widespread problem. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the issue, but one study estimates the identities of approximately 2.5 million deceased Americans are used fraudulently each year. Of those, almost 800,000 are deliberately targeted cases.

Why it’s important to freeze someone’s credit after they die

Many identity thieves are practiced in using the dead’s information for their own financial gain. Criminals who deliberately target the departed know that it takes time for financial organizations and credit reporting agencies to process death notices and update their records, leaving open a window of opportunity for fraud.

Following the 2017 Equifax breach, people may be more aware of their credit situation than in the past. However, a survey taken shortly after the breach by CompareCards.com (which, like MagnifyMoney, is a subsidiary of LendingTree) shows that approximately 78% of people did not freeze their credit after the breach. People are largely aware of the negative impact that identity theft can have, but a large portion of the American population neglects to take the next steps necessary to protect themselves.

Luckily, the steps to take to protect your loved one’s identity are clear and relatively simple to follow.

How to report a death to the credit bureaus

The Social Security Administration (SSA) states that, in most cases, the funeral director will notify the administration of a person’s death. To ensure this, you must give the deceased’s Social Security number to the funeral director. From there, credit reporting agencies and lenders will be informed of the person’s passing, and they’ll automatically put a death notice or alert on their credit.

To expedite the process, it is suggested that loved ones who are close to the deceased (typically a spouse or child) take matters into their own hands to get a death notice placed on their departed family member’s credit reports at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will involve submitting a death certificate, and the Identity Theft Resource center recommends requesting 12 copies of the certificate for such purposes (some institutions may require an original, rather than a photocopy).

Carrie Kerskie, an identity theft expert and director of the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University, says you should contact the credit bureaus, but knowing the right verbiage is key. “Instead of requesting a freeze, one would request a death alert,” she said. “It is similar to a freeze, except a freeze could be lifted with a PIN. A death alert cannot.”

The easiest way to update that person’s credit account is to have a relative or executor send letters to each of the three credit national reporting agencies.

The writer should include the following information about the deceased in their letter:

  • Legal name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Copy of death certificate or letters testamentary

They’ll also want to include:

  • The letter-writer or executor’s full name
  • Their address for sending final confirmation
  • Proof you’re the executor, if applicable

David Blumberg, director of public relations for TransUnion, said, “Our industry policy is that the receiving credit reporting company will notify the other two, so they can update their records as well.”

Still, to be safe, mail this information to each of the three credit reporting agencies. Their mailing addresses are:

TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Experian
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013

Equifax
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348-5139

Kerskie advises that people going through this process prepare to provide proof of relationship along with the death certificate they’re submitting. “This could be a marriage license or court papers,” she said.

What’s the fastest option?

When speed is of the essence in beating potential fraudsters, mailing is certainly not your fastest option. Experian offers a solution: Submit the death certificate and death notice request online by uploading the documents directly to its system. Once it receives the information, Experian will add the deceased indicator and permanently remove the person’s name from any future mailing lists for preapproved offers.

Equifax also offers two speedier options – email a copy of the death certificate to [email protected] or fax your records to (888) 826-0727. It should be noted that email isn’t a secure way to submit this personal information (especially in light of the fact that you’re working to prevent identity theft).

While TransUnion doesn’t have a streamlined online tool or fax offering, they do advise family members or executors to call (800) 680-7289 for more assistance. If you need any help requesting that a death alert be placed on a deceased’s account, your first action should be to contact the bureaus directly.

Other things to do besides reporting the death

Although going through the process of contacting credit reporting agencies may seem like a hassle, your to-do list doesn’t end here. In addition to notifying the credit bureaus of the death, you should also request a copy of the person’s credit report. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides a form you can use to request the reports. This will help you to better understand what accounts are open, and it can help you spot suspicious activity. Should you face the worst-case scenario and your loved one’s identity is stolen, this will also help you to prove any charges the thieves incur.

Additionally, while it’s common for funeral directors to assist you in reporting a loved one’s death to the Social Security Administration, it behooves you to ensure this has been done. The easiest way to contact the SSA is online, but you can also call them toll-free at (800) 772-1213 or at their TTY number, (800) 325-0778.

Other items for your list:

  • Be proactive and let the deceased’s various financial institutions and account holders know about their death. Reach out to banks, insurers, brokerages, lenders, mortgage companies and credit card companies by mailing them copies of the death certificate. Kerskie recommends sending these items by certified mail and requesting a return receipt to ensure the safety of the personal information you’re sending.
  • Limit the amount of personal information released to the public. Identity thieves often gain access through obituaries that list dates of birth, death, full legal names and addresses.
  • Consider changing the deceased’s address to forward to another loved one’s home or an executor’s place of business. Identity thieves sometimes steal personal information out of a deceased person’s mail box.
  • Don’t forget to file the deceased’s final tax return.

How to resolve identity theft of a deceased person

Resolving identity theft of a deceased person follows many of the same steps you would proactively take to prevent it: Request a copy of the credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, request a death notice on that person’s credit and notify creditors of the person’s death. If fraud has occurred, there’s an extra step: The Identity Theft Resource Center advises you to contact the police in the jurisdiction of the deceased with evidence of fraud. This might be a collection notice you’ve received on the deceased’s behalf, or a credit report showing fraudulent activity.

It’s important to remember that you should not be held accountable for fraudulent debt that’s racked up in the name of your deceased relative. While this may not provide any emotional consolation as you’re going through this process, it should help to relieve some of the money-related stress you’re experiencing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dave Grant
Dave Grant |

Dave Grant is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dave at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure

Identity Theft Protection

What to Do If You Think Your Mortgage Data Was Breached

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

iStock

This week, the online technology publication TechCrunch reported that millions of pages of mortgage loan documents were leaked online. More than a decade’s worth of data may have been affected, giving identity thieves access to financially sensitive documentation about every aspect of a consumer’s income, credit and assets.

The incident makes clear one potential downside of the industry’s inexorable move online. Mortgage companies have been scrambling to keep up with consumer demand for a fully digital mortgage experience. The convenience of allowing lenders access to bank records, employment and income history, and credit information electronically may save time and stress in the mortgage approval process.

However, one of the downsides to all of this digital simplicity is the risk a cybersecurity breach could give a hacker access to all of your financial data in one place.

Knowing what to do and what not to do are essential in preventing identity thieves from using any of your personal information to obtain new credit. You also need to know how to spot scammers that will try to take advantage of consumer fear and confusion to promote bogus services.

The first thing to do if your data was compromised

Beware of incoming phone calls

Do not provide any sensitive information over the phone to anyone who calls regarding your credit card or loan accounts, or anything having to do with your bank. Insist on getting a call back number and call them back — if they aren’t for real, they will probably hang up as soon as you ask for their contact information.

The FTC suggests you “don’t believe your caller ID.” Sophisticated scammers can create a “spoof” phone number that shows up on your caller ID in the name of your bank or credit card company, but is really a con artist trying to take advantage of you.

Do not open emails or answer texts from anyone claiming to be related to the recent data breach. If you receive such electronic communication, contact the creditor or bank immediately and ask for their security department to confirm if the correspondence is legitimate.

The IRS will not call you to confirm your personal information. The IRS recommends that companies experiencing a data breach send you a letter explaining what happened, what you can do to safeguard your credit and identity and how to follow up with them.

Any conversations that you have with creditors or banks should be initiated by you, using contact information you have on credit card and bank statements that you already have on file.

How to protect your accounts

Change your passwords on any account that has online access

There is information suggesting the most recent mortgage data breach may have included public access to passwords and user IDs for a variety of different financial accounts. Change your user ID and passwords to your online bank accounts and any credit accounts that you access online.

Track your bank and credit card balances, and notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you see any unusual charges or withdrawals.

Subscribe to a credit monitoring service

Your bank or an online credit monitoring service will provide up-to-date information about any new inquiries made. If you see unusual activity, then you may want to follow one of the steps below to activate a credit freeze with all of the credit bureaus so no new credit can be opened without direct contact with you.

What to do if you see signs of identity theft

If you have evidence that new credit accounts are being opened, or if someone has accessed your bank account, there are several steps you need to take to notify authorities and fraud departments at your bank and creditors.

Call your bank first, brokerage accounts second

You need to make sure that your assets are not liquidated, so contact your bank immediately. Most banks have fraud protection measures in place to replace any stolen money quickly. The sooner you contact the bank, preferably in person, the quicker a report can be filed, your old account can be closed and a new one is opened.

Brokerage accounts don’t have the same identity-theft protections that bank accounts do. If you have mutual funds, IRAs or 401ks, you should contact the brokerage. If you do see any suspicious activity, you’ll also want to contact the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contact your creditors next

Credit card companies have fraud and identity-theft departments. This information is often on the back of your credit cards so contact them immediately to let them know your information has been used without your authorization. They may need you to fill out police reports, and provide additional follow-up as the fraud department investigates your claim.

Make sure you contact the IRS

It may not be top of mind, but come tax time, you may get an unpleasant surprise if you learn someone filed a tax return on your behalf. This happened during the 2017 Equifax breach — because returns are filed electronically now, it’s much easier for an identity thief to try to get a tax refund using your identification information.

Consider putting a fraud alert on your credit

The Federal Trade Commission recommends putting a credit freeze on your credit if you suspect or are in the process of an investigation into identity theft of your personal information. You will need to validate any new credit requests that you make and some lenders, especially mortgage companies, will need you to release the freeze if you try to apply for a home loan in the future.

If you haven’t actually experienced any fraud but have been notified by a company that you did business with that they experienced a breach of data, then you might want to start with a fraud alert. Unlike a credit freeze, a fraud alert allows your credit information to be accessed, but it lets any creditors know that you suspect or are concerned that your information may have been compromised.

Put everything in writing

You’ll want to have a date-stamped written record of all communications, in case you up needing to take legal action to recover your losses. Police and federal investigators may need this correspondence to pursue investigations against identity-theft criminals.

The FTC also has an identity-theft affidavit that can be completed and provided to law enforcement.

Watch out for signs of breach scams

Impostor scammers

Impostor scammers will try to play on fear and confusion by creating schemes to defraud you out of money for extra security services or even lawsuits representing your interests and promising large payouts if you’ll just join their list. They may call, email, send letters or even knock on your door claiming to be law enforcement or an agent of a federal agency.

If anyone tries to charge you an upfront fee of any kind to protect you from further breaches, or to include you in any kind of legal action, hang up the phone and contact the authorities. Given the size of this mortgage breach, you’ll want to sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s scam alert service to find out if there is a pattern of new scams related to this leak.

Bogus mortgage servicing transfer letters or phone calls

Because data was accessed from companies that service mortgage loans, hackers may send you notices of a transfer of servicing and tell you to make your payments to a new mortgage company or location. Use your recent mortgage statement to contact your current mortgage company if you get any notices.

Also, be sure to file a complaint and provide a copy of the email or mail correspondence to the authorities if they request it.

Be prepared to monitor your credit and assets frequently

The FTC provides excellent resources regarding what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.

Identity thieves may wait a while to use your data. The info you provided to get your mortgage provides a great deal of detail about your financial profile, which means a scammer can impersonate you for many types of online credit and financial transactions.

By giving notice to your creditors, banks and the IRS, they will at least be on notice to watch for activity. Their correspondence should be in writing and provide you with verifiable contact numbers for any information requests.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here