A frozen bank account can be the end result of months of credit troubles or illegal activity. Several government organizations and private businesses have the ability to freeze your accounts for the purposes of collecting debts, obtaining evidence of your illegal activity and preventing the further loss of your funds due to identity theft.
Law Enforcement Agencies
If you are suspected of certain crimes involving fraud, embezzlement, theft or the sale of illegal drugs, law enforcement may be empowered to freeze accounts as part of the investigation and evidence collection process. This is done to prevent you from closing your bank accounts and hiding or otherwise getting rid of potential evidence.
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Tracing your finances is particularly important in large-scale fraud or drug distribution cases to determine where deposits originate from and to determine the total amount of cash involved in the fraud, theft or other crime.
Consider also: Who Has Access to Bank Account Information?
The Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service has the power to freeze your bank account while in the course of pursuing you for unpaid federal taxes. This account freeze, also known as a bank levy, effectively locks you out of your account while the IRS seizes the entire balance. Your bank is required to provide you with a written notice of a pending IRS bank levy.
There are some circumstances in which you may overcome an IRS bank levy and stop the seizure of funds in your bank accounts. These include proving that account seizure could cause significant financial hardship such as the loss of your home or the inability to care for dependents.
A Court Judgment
A creditor may obtain a judgment from a civil court to seize a portion or the entirety of funds held in any of your bank accounts for the lawful payment of a debt. Under the terms of a court judgment, you may be frozen out of your account so you are unable to withdraw funds that would block a creditor's rightful action to seize money for debt payment. This type of judgment is not legal in all states. Some states only allow account seizures relating to delinquent child support payments and the payment federal or state taxes.
New York's Exempt Income Protection Act, for example, prevents a creditor from freezing a bank account that contains less than $3,000 if the account contains protected funds including Social Security payments, spousal and child support funds, workers' compensation payments and unemployment insurance, among others. These numbers change every three years, according to law firm Cullen Dykman LLP.
Your Own Bank
Your bank may freeze any of your accounts if it suspects you may be a victim of identity theft. This practice is done for your protection, to prevent more illegal attempts to seize funds in your accounts. Notifying your bank promptly of any unauthorized payments on your account can help limit your liability for fraudulent checks and debit purchases.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, your liability is limited to $50 of fraudulent purchases as long as you notify your bank within two days of the illegal account activity. That amount goes up to $500 if you wait more than two days and as long as 60 days. After 60 days, you lose all of your money that's been stolen.
Consider also: How to Open a Bank Account When I Owe Another Bank Money