Monday, June 4, 2018

Protect Yourself with Financial Notifications

Yesterday I was reminded why setting up financial transaction notifications can save you a lot of hassle and maybe a bunch of money. My better half, Jan, opened her computer to discover email notifications from one of her credit cards for a series of credit card purchases she did not make.

The purchases began around 1:18 am our time and within minutes totaled $900. Because these purchases were overseas, they triggered the credit card company to put a temporary hold on the fourth and fifth purchases (but not the first three). They sent Jan a text alert. Because it was in the middle of our night, her phone didn’t ping, and she only noticed the alerts after she saw the email messages. She called the fraud group at the credit card company and will receive a new card.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), if you report your card lost before any charges are made, you have no liability. Otherwise your liability is capped at $50. If you didn’t lose your card, but your number was stolen, you again have no liability. Even though your liability is limited, the hassles can be large if you don’t catch the problem early.

For fraudulent ATM withdrawals or fraudulent debit card use, timing is important. Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, if your ATM or debit card is stolen, you have no liability if you report the theft before it was used. If you report it stolen within two days of learning of the loss or theft, your liability is limited to $50. If between two days and sixty days, your liability increases to $500. If more than sixty days pass, you will bear the entire loss.

And consider the hassles if fraudulent debit card withdrawals mean if (say) your mortgage payment bounces. Who pays the bounced check fee, the extra interest charge? How long will it take to straighten out your credit report after the mortgage company notes the late payment in your file?

Transaction alerts allow you to catch bogus charges quickly. If you wait until you receive a statement to check for issues, days and weeks may have passed and thieves will keep using the stolen information until it stops working. And if you’re someone who doesn’t bother to reconcile your bank and credit card statements, you could suffer permanent losses.

How do you set a transaction alert?

Each financial institution has its own methodology, but they are similar. As far as I am aware, you can only set notifications online. Here’s how it works for Chase credit cards:

Once you sign-in to the online account, find the vendor’s “account services” or equivalent. You can find it for Chase in a drop-down menu on a “Things you can do” link. Other providers have it as a tab across the top or bottom of the welcome page. Under the account services, Chase has “Profiles and Settings,” which includes “Alerts.”

Chase allows you to set up alerts sent to an email account for any purchase transaction more than whatever amount you choose. In the past I chose $1.00, but now I use $0.01. I want to see any transaction because thieves are known to try out a charge for pennies to see if the transaction succeeds. If it does, they then use it for a very expensive shopping excursion. I also set an alert to notify me of any balance transfer to my card. Banks and credit cards and banks have several other categories of events that will trigger alerts if you want (payment date approaching, minimum account balance, minimum remaining credit limit, etc.). I don’t use them, but you might find some helpful.

I can hear you say, “But I’ll get so many emails.” For my peace of mind, it’s a small price to look through a few more emails and delete them when I recognize the charges. Every so often a bogus charge happens and stopping the thieves as quickly as possible saves me a later hassle, and it also saves us all money in the long run. Just because we don’t suffer a personal loss does not make financial crime victimless. We all pay for the thievery in the higher prices we’re charged.

Questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.