Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The costly disparity of debit and credit cards

I can't help but wonder how many of the 45.7 million cards stolen from TJX were split between debit and credit cards. The number was lumped together as a whole as if they were all the same. To TJX there was no difference, they said sorry for the inconvenience, and moved on. Not so fast, because to the victims there was potentially a huge difference.

All this starts with the cards looking identical to consumers. This leads many to the conclusion that because they look alike they are alike. The biggest difference to them is one gets billed and the other comes from their checking account. What else could there be?

Under the Fair Credit Reporting act you cannot be held responsible for unauthorized charges to your credit card. The burden you face is to prove you did not make the charges, file a police report etc. Your liability is generally limited to $50 per card.

The people who had their debit cards compromised fall into a whole different category of liability. Within the first 2 days you liability is capped at $50. Up to 60 days it is capped at $500, after the 60 day window you are wide open for unlimited liability or the balance of your account. Those clocks start ticking the day you notify your bank of the theft, or the date of your first paper or online statement where the unauthorized charges appear. You become "notified" even if you don't open up the envelope or bother looking!

Remember , the "Zero Liability" card you have is not a mandate to the bank from the government, only a courtesy from your bank. Even then, it is at their discretion who is truly liable.

I'm sure many do not bother to review their charges or statements because they feel "protected" and have "zero liability". I would like to hear from some victims of the TJX fiasco to see how well they made out with these policies. I'm sure many looked at those statements for the first time in a long time when they heard about the breach and were quite surprised.

The easiest solution, review your statements regularly. They are your best defense to a costly theft!