Many Commonwealth residents have recently fallen prey to bank account hackers. What can you do to protect your accounts and avoid liability?
Monitor your bank account activity
To avoid liability for and detect fraudulent transactions, it is critical to frequently monitor your bank account activity. If you bank online, don’t make it easy for hackers to attack you—don’t allow your computer to “remember” or save your account passwords (especially if other users have access to your computer); always log out after completing your banking session; and, if you keep a list of passwords, store it in a secure place. If you receive paper statements, review the statements as you receive them, and then shred them or keep them in a secure location.
Report unauthorized transactions to your bank and close your account
You cannot be held liable for unauthorized transactions occurring without your physical card if you report the unauthorized debits within 60 days after the bank sends you the account statement on which the unauthorized debit appears. (Note: if you lose your debit card or if it is stolen, your liability turns on when you report the missing card—if you fail to report it before unauthorized charges are incurred, you could be exposed to liability. Takeaway: report a missing or stolen card as soon as you discover it’s missing!)
If you discover an unauthorized transaction, immediately report it to your bank. You can notify the bank in person, via phone, or in writing. However, a written complaint is always best as it provides proof of your complaint. Your complaint should include all information necessary for the bank to resolve the matter (such as, account number, and amount, date, and location of the unauthorized transaction). Be sure to keep copies of written correspondence and keep a written record of phone and in-person communications related to the matter. (Note: If you make an oral complaint, the bank may require you to follow up with a written confirmation; if it does, be sure to promptly submit a written confirmation.)
Within 10 business days of receiving a complaint, the bank must promptly investigate the matter and determine whether there was an unauthorized debit. The bank must then credit any unauthorized debit within one business day of determining that the debit was unauthorized. If an investigation cannot be completed within 10 days, the bank may take up to 45 days provided that they give you a provisional credit for the contested amount within 10 business days of receiving your complaint.
In addition to reporting the fraudulent transaction to the bank, you should close the hacked account and transfer your money into a new account with a new account number.
File a complaint with the FTC and DPS
After reporting an unauthorized transaction to your bank, follow it up with a report to the Federal Trade Commission (https://www.identitytheft.gov/) and a complaint to the Department of Public Safety. By doing these two things, you can create an “identity theft report,” which will make it easier to correct any problems associated with the hack.
Additional precautions: Run a credit report, consider initiating a credit freeze, and monitor all financial accounts
In the best-case scenario, the hacker only has your debit card number; in the worst, the perpetrator has your personal information and will try access other financial accounts and/or try to establish new credit accounts with your information. To guard against the worst case, (1) consider running a credit report—it’s free if you haven’t run one in the past 12 months—at www.annualcreditreport.com, and review the report for unauthorized accounts; (2) monitor all of your financial accounts on a daily basis to catch other unauthorized transactions; and (3) think about placing a fraud alert on your credit report or initiating a credit freeze (for more information on these options, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/ 0279-extended-fraud-alerts-and-credit-freezes).
Complaints about a bank
If you have an issue related to how a bank is handling your complaint, you should submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.
You should also file a complaint with the Consumer Counsel. Complaint forms are available at the Office of the Attorney General on Capitol Hill or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice to any individual or entity. This information is not intended to create, and the reading of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
Teresita J. Sablan is the consumer counsel at the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.