Fraud comes in many forms, as criminals attempt to siphon off your earnings through check fraud or with phony debit card charges. Fortunately, regulations exist that limit your liability if you become a victim of fraudulent activity. In many instances, you can get your money back. The timelines for fraud refunds vary based on the type of transaction and the speed with which you report the activity.
Laws on Reporting Check Fraud
Laws relating to checks vary from state to state although every state has regulations based upon the Uniform Commercial Code. Under the UCC, your bank has a duty to ensure fraudulent checks don't pass through your account. Banks look for clues that indicate fraud, such as alterations or signatures that do not match the signature on your account records.
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If forged checks clear your account, you have up to three years to make a claim against your bank, although you must inform the bank of the issue within 12 months. The UCC does not provide a timeframe for your bank to refund your money. Rules pertaining to refund timeframes vary between banks and states.
Handling of Electronic Transactions
Rules relating to electronic fraud are more clear cut and set at the federal level under Regulation E. This act covers transactions involving debit cards, ATMs and electronic debits.
If you report a fraudulent transaction, your bank has to investigate the charges and refund your money within 10 days. Your bank can extend the investigation timeline to 45 days if you receive provisional credit of a refund within 10 days of making your claim. Under Regulation E, your bank can require you to submit the claim in writing rather than verbally before you receive the refund.
Provisional Credit and Processing Times
You may wait longer than 10 days for provisional or full credit if you make a claim on an account that you've had for less than 30 days. In such instances, banks have 20 days to complete an investigation, or 60 days as long as provisional credit is given at day 20. Transactions involving point-of-sale terminals and electronic funds transfers initiated out of state also are subject to the extended processing timeframes.
Significantly, Regulation E establishes maximum timeframes but says nothing about minimums. Many banks refund cash either provisionally or permanently within a few days of a customer making a claim.
Understanding Your Liability
When it comes to fraud charges, deadlines apply to both consumers and banks. If you lose your debit card or PIN, you have zero liability for fraud charges as long as you report the loss to your bank within 48 hours. Your liability extends to $50 if you file the claim after the second day but within 60 days. Thereafter, you have unlimited liability for fraud charges.
Similarly, you have no protection against fraud costs related to check forgeries if you fail to notify your bank of the problem within 12 months of the item appearing on your statement.