Credit, debit card loss, theft spikes at holidays

NEW YORK (AP) ? It’s one of the downsides of the holiday shopping frenzy: a spike in the number of lost or stolen credit and debit cards.

The figure increases by 19 percent during the holiday shopping season, according to PNC Bank. But there are ways to avoid becoming a victim ? and minimize the repercussions if you do.

To start, it’s worth knowing that ? by law ? you are liable for a maximum of $50 in charges if your credit card is lost or stolen.

The rules are a bit more complicated with debit cards. The same $50 limit applies as long as you notify your bank within two business days. But after two days, your liability for a lost debit card goes up to $500 and your risk is unlimited if you don’t report unauthorized transactions within 60 days.

That means you could technically lose all the money in your account and any accounts linked to it, notes Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. Thus the cardinal rule: Always report a loss or theft immediately to the bank that issued your card.

In practice, many banks don’t hold their customers liable for any charges when a debit or credit card is stolen or lost. But you could be squeezed while your bank is looking into any claims.

“While your bank is conducting its investigation, you don’t have that money. And other checks or debits may bounce,” Mierzwinski said.

Banks may also charge to replace lost cards. In September, for example, Bank of America instituted a $5 fee to replace lost debit cards, with overnight rush delivery costing $20. Both services used to be free.

To prevent losses, theft and related hassles, PNC Bank is hoping to raise customer awareness. Mark Ford, senior vice president of card services at the Pittsburgh-based bank, reminds cardholders to keep alert while they’re shopping. He says many customers simply leave their cards behind at restaurants and stores in the frenzy.

If you card is misplaced or stolen, Ford suggests filing a police report. It gives third-party support to your case and he said it could help the bank investigate your claim.