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Use Electronic Cards Carefully For Security
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The convenience plastic offers holiday shoppers can be a liability if the card is lost or the account number stolen.
Automated Teller Machine cards, debit cards and credit cards are extremely popular with shoppers, especially at the holiday season. Consumers need only produce their card, signature and sometimes a Personal Identification Number to access money in their account or on their credit line.
But if that card is lost or stolen, a thief needs only the same information to make the card work for them.
Jan Lukens, consumer management specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, cautioned buyers to guard both their cards and their account numbers. A thief often does not need physical possession of the card to steal from the account.
"Most consumers don't realize that losses with an ATM card are different from losses on a credit card," Lukens said. "Your losses on unauthorized charges to a credit card are limited to $50 if you notify the card issuer within a reasonable time, usually 30 days."
ATM card theft losses are also limited to $50, but only if reported in two days. The owner is liable for up to $500 in losses if reported after two days but less than 60 days from receiving the bank statement showing the theft.
"If you fail to notify the bank at all, there is no limit to your liability with either an ATM card or a credit card," Lukens said. "After you notify the financial institution, you are not obligated for any unauthorized charges on any type card.
"Because of the severe consequence with lost ATM cards, it is even more important to guard those cards and the information needed to use them. Never keep PIN numbers and cards in the same place and always check your bank statement as soon as you receive it. The longer this type of theft continues, the greater chance the account holder will have to pay," she said.
According to information released online by the National Security Institute, consumers can be robbed without a bank or credit card being stolen. Thieves can do this by getting the account information off receipts, carbon copies of receipts, or by seeing or hearing the account number.
"All a practiced swindler needs is your credit card number," the institute states.
Lukens recommended cancelling missing cards, even if they are assumed lost in a safe place. Call the bank immediately and follow up with a letter. With large losses, consumers must be able to prove they notified the bank immediately.
Lukens also urged consumers to keep accurate records of electronic transactions. Poor records make it hard to detect and prove unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
"It seems the more people use credit cards and electronic funds, the less inclined they are to keep records, but for consumer protection purposes, records are critical even when using electronic methods rather than paper transactions," Lukens said.