Nothing makes you feel quite as helpless as discovering you are the victim of credit card or identity fraud. When I fell prey to a pickpocket, I recall just how defenseless I felt sitting alone in a foreign police station. I returned home that evening, feeling defeated and foolish that a stranger had access to my banking and personal information. So how do you refund stolen money from your bank account, and how can you protect yourself?
First Response after Discovering Stolen Money
Everyone has advice as to what you should have done to prevent the situation, but the most important question is how to recover your funds after the fact. The first step is to notify your bank or credit union as soon as you notice fraudulent activity. The sooner you are aware and report the problem, the better your chances to receive a full refund. In my personal experience, I was able to have the charges waived during a phone call with my credit card company simply because I reported the incident within 24 hours of the transaction.
There is some good news in this financial nightmare; federal laws do protect victims of fraud. If the card is reported lost or stolen within two business days, you cannot be charged more than $50 of the total losses. The limit increases to $500 if it is reported after two days. However, if you fail to notify the bank within 60 days after your monthly statement with the error was issued, you may be held responsible for the full amount.
Refunding the Stolen Money
Once you have contacted the bank, it will issue an alert and freeze your accounts to prevent further unauthorized transactions. Your bank or credit union will then launch an investigation to determine that an error has occurred.
The whole process generally takes about ten business days to resolve. The bank must correct the error and notify you of its findings within three business days. If the investigation lasts longer than 20 days, the financial institution will usually issue a temporary credit to your account and possibly request a written confirmation of the incident.
There are extenuating circumstances that could take up to 90 days to refund the stolen money from your account. Charges made in foreign countries, accounts open for less than 30 days, and point-of-sale purchases require more extensive investigations.
In most instances, the bank will correct the error and refund the stolen money to your bank account if it is clear you are not at fault. There are some cases in which the bank determines that the transactions were authorized. You will be provided a written notice of their results and any temporary credit may be deducted from your account. If the bank rejects your claim, you have the option to escalate an appeal to the internal complaints department or a Financial Ombudsman Service.
Prevent Yourself from Becoming a Victim
Even if you have had money stolen from your bank accounts, there are still measures you can take to prevent it from happening in the future.
- Never give out your PIN number or keep it written anywhere in your wallet.
- Set up an online banking profile and check your activity regularly.
- Carefully examine your monthly statements.
- Generate an automated notification for any large transactions from your account.
- Check your credit reports.
The most important thing is to stay vigilant and monitor your finances. If you suspect that someone may have opened additional accounts or loan applications under your name, you can contact the FTC at 877-438-4338 or online at identitytheft.gov. Anyone can fall victim to scammers, but thanks to modern technology we now have more protection than ever before.