In banking as in so many other areas, the trend is clear: We continue to move steadily away from traditional paper transactions toward high-tech means of conducting our business. It will not happen overnight, though, and even the most technophobic among us should be assured that there are some federal laws and regulations in place that will make the transition easier and more secure.
Electronic Fund Transfer Act
The methods for electronic fund transfers (EFTs) are already commonplace for many bank customers. They include ATMs, debit or check cards, preauthorized deposits and withdrawals, and telephone transfers. The federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act answers some basic questions about using EFT services. The Act is especially important when things go wrong, providing rules for the correction of errors and dealing with loss or theft.
Financial institutions must provide documentation of EFTs in two forms: terminal receipts and periodic statements. Among other pieces of information, both documents must include the type of transfer, the amount and date of the transaction, and the location of the terminal. For preauthorized transfers that occur at regular intervals, the institution must provide a notice that the transfer occurred as scheduled.
As with credit cards, financial institutions must investigate and promptly correct any EFT errors reported by the consumer, but there are some differences in the details. For errors like unauthorized or incorrect EFTs, or omission of an EFT from a statement, a consumer should contact the institution as soon as possible, and no later than 60 days after receiving the statement showing the error. As a general rule, the institution must promptly investigate and resolve the matter within 45 days. If more than 10 days pass, it must make the correction, subject to the results of the investigation. Such a recredit is made final if the institution finds an error; if it does not, it must explain the outcome of its investigation in writing to the consumer.
If your credit card is lost or stolen, your loss is limited to $50 per card. That is also the general rule for an EFT card or code, but with the important caveat that procrastination in reporting a lost or stolen EFT card or code can be much more expensive. The exposure limit jumps to $500 for a consumer who does not report the loss or theft within two days of learning of it. Not only that, but failure to report an unauthorized transfer within the 60-day period for doing so creates unlimited exposure to losses from transfers made after the 60-day period.
Proceed with Caution
The federal Government provides some EFT protection for old hands and novices alike, but the best approach is to combine that protection with your own safe practices. Keep a low profile for thieves and scam artists by protecting your personal information, such as bank account numbers, passwords, and Social Security numbers. Never respond with such information to unsolicited telephone calls or e-mails. Verify the legitimacy of a website address before providing personal information on the site. It is a good idea to have virus protection and a “firewall” on your computer to keep hackers out. Finally, keep good banking records and review each bank statement promptly so that you can report anything suspicious you see in time for it to do you the most good.