Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Unauthorized Charges and Worthless Checks

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


There are many ways scammers and unscrupulous businesses can attempt to place unauthorized charges on your accounts. Check your account statements regularly in order to spot the following types of charges.

Credit Card Fraud:

Credit and debit card fraud costs the U.S. billions each year. Consumers pay for the fraud through higher finance charges, annual fees and increased costs for law enforcement investigations and prosecutions. Do not give your credit card number out over the phone or online unless you initiated the contact or you have verified the website you are on belongs to the company with which you believe you are dealing. Be on alert for card skimmers at outdoor payment terminals. Card skimmers are devices that can be inserted in or attached to payment terminals. Once in place, these skimmers are able to copy the payment information of cards that are swiped or inserted, and then thieves can clone your card and use it themselves. If you lose your credit cards or if you realize they've been stolen, immediately call the issuer(s). Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. Note the date, time and person to whom you reported that your card was lost or stolen. By law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no further responsibility for unauthorized charges.

Negative Option Marketing:

Negative options are those transactions where customers believe they have signed up for a “free trial” or purchased a single item but are set up for automatic renewals or other financial obligations without their knowledge. These transactions may go undiscovered for some time. Under the Federal Negative Option Rule, sellers must clearly and conspicuously disclose certain information including how many selections you must buy, how and when you may cancel your membership, how to notify the seller when you do not choose an item, how postage and handling is charged and how often you will receive the announcements. While these plans may, at first, appear enticing because they offer reduced price or “free” merchandise, be certain you understand the overall cost. If you subscribe, be certain to keep a copy of the seller's promotional materials and the contract. Be certain you understand the return deadline to the seller to cancel the selection. Otherwise, you may be bound to pay for the item.

Unauthorized Checking Withdrawals:

You may either receive a postcard, a phone call or an email saying you have won a free prize, qualify for an amazing deal on a product or can qualify for a major credit card, regardless of past credit problems. If you reply to the offer, you may be subjected to a sales pitch, during which you may be asked to provide the numbers at the bottom of your check. Once you provide your checking account information, it is put on a “demand draft” and sent to the bank for payment. When your bank receives the draft, the stated amount is withdrawn from your account and paid to the scammer’s bank. You may not realize this has occurred until you receive your next bank statement. If a telemarketer has issued a draft against your checking account without your knowledge or permission or the amount is more than you authorized, contact your bank immediately. The bank will block any future attempts the telemarketer makes to withdraw funds from your account.

Worthless Checks:

Under Florida law, any checks returned “NSF” (non-sufficient funds), “Account Not Found” or “NSF Unless Otherwise Indicated” is a worthless check subject to prosecution under Florida’s criminal statutes. Checks stamped “Refer to Maker” or Uncollected Funds” may require additional investigation before being charged criminally. Checks stamped “Stop Payment” may be subject to criminal prosecution, but are typically legitimate means of dealing with a contractual dispute. Checks returned “Unauthorized Drawer’s Signature(s)” are usually forgeries signed by someone other than the owner of the checking account. These checks should be presented to your local law enforcement authorities for investigations. Should you choose to accept a check as payment for goods or services, do not accept post-dated checks or third-party checks. Additionally, you should ask for a form of identification and ensure that the information on the check matches that on the ID.

File a complaint.

You may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online using their complaint assistant portal at www.ftc.gov/complaint.