For Immediate Release - March 03, 2006

Debit Card Holders Urged to Verify Recent Transactions

Debit Card Holders Urged to Verify Recent Transactions

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and the Division of Banks are urging debit card users to immediately examine their accounts to determine if unauthorized transactions recently occurred in the United States or abroad. This advisory comes after numerous customers reported unauthorized debit card transactions Wednesday to Fitchburg and Leominster police and area financial institutions. The transactions occurred mainly overseas in London, Scotland, Barcelona, and Zaire, but also in Illinois.

"With advances in fund transfer technology, thieves are using more sophisticated means to steal. You can become a victim of fraud without your card ever leaving your wallet or purse," said Consumer Affairs Director Janice Tatarka. "This is another good reason consumers need to be safe and check their accounts regularly and report any unauthorized transactions to their credit unions or banks and police," added Tatarka.

In previous incidents, "hackers" have broken into the databases of major retailers to illegally obtain personal financial information and thieves have also used "skimming" devices that can steal account information in order to produce new debit cards for use. Director Tatarka advised consumers of actions they should take to prevent ATM, debit and credit card fraud and important steps to reduce losses if they are victims of fraud.

Check your account activity regularly. If you have access to online banking, check account activity regularly for any transactions you did not make or for any sudden drops in account balances. If you do not have access to online banking, compare your monthly bank statement against your deposits, withdrawals, or transfers to check for unusual activity.

Report unauthorized activity to financial institutions and the police. Do this as soon as you realize that a card has been lost or stolen or you notice that your account has had any unauthorized activity. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24 hour service to report these emergencies. Be sure to follow up with a letter that includes your account number, when you noticed the unauthorized activity and the date you called to report the loss.

Know your rights and responsibilities. State and federal laws limit consumer liability for unauthorized use of a credit card to $50. State law also limits liability to $50 for unauthorized debit card usage. Liability under federal law for unauthorized use of an ATM or debit cards depends on how soon you report the activity. Under both state and federal law, once you report unauthorized activity, you are no longer liable for any future unauthorized transactions. Some financial institutions have policies that offer even greater protection than required by law.

Protect your financial information. Keep credit and debit cards in a secure location in your home. Carry only the credit cards you anticipate using. Keep all receipts and never sign blank charge or debit slips. If an ATM, location access device or transaction device looks suspicious or out of the ordinary, don't use it and report it to the financial institution, retailer and police. Never allow a retail employee to swipe your card through two different devices. If you are unsure of an employee's actions, report it immediately to the manager. If you are concerned after using a machine, contact the bank or retailer's fraud department and your card issuer.

Routinely check your credit report. Although you won't be liable for most reported fraudulent charges on your credit or debit card, there could be a chance of risk to your credit record. All consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus. To order a copy, go to www.annualcreditreport.com, or contact:

If you need additional guidance or assistance, contact the Massachusetts Division of Banks' Consumer Hotline at 1-800-495-BANK (2265) or the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs Hotline at 1-888-283-3757.