Your Common Financial Questions – Answered!

Feb 23, 2017

Tips on what you can do to ​protect your money and information. 

 

Editor’s Note: The following includes excerpts from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) Winter 2017 newsletter. Please click here to view the FDIC’s entire article.

I noticed a charge on my credit card that I didn’t make. What should I do?

Short answer: Contact your bank or credit card provider immediately.

Generally, a federal law protects consumers from responsibility for unauthorized transactions. However, please be aware that your losses may be limited to $50 if the card is lost or stolen, so you’ll want to notify the card issuer about the situation as soon as possible. Plus unauthorized transactions can tie up your credit limit and may impact your score until things are resolved.

What You Can Do: Because of some provider’s “fine print” regarding what is or is not covered, you’ll want to be sure to review all communications from your bank or credit card issuer. Don’t let your statements pile up and go unread for months at a time. For even more diligent monitoring, sign up for online access to your cards and review your activity frequently. Regularly reading through your account activity helps ensure that you quickly catch billing errors and unauthorized transactions. (This same advice goes for checking and savings account statements!) 

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I lost my prepaid debit card. What if a thief has already used my card?

Under current law, there is a chance you could be responsible for some losses for unauthorized charges made after a card was lost or stolen because many prepaid cards, including GPR (general purpose reloadable), have been outside the scope of certain consumer laws that provide fraud and lost-card protections.

Unlike conventional debit cards and transactions accounts, GPR prepaid cards do not currently receive the same federal consumer protections that require financial institutions to investigate and determine losses for unauthorized charges, fraud, and lost or stolen cards, unless you were a recipient of federal payments, like Social Security, or had a payroll card,” said Stefano LeGrande, an FDIC senior consumer affairs specialist.

If you’re currently using a prepaid debit card to access your paycheck or make daily purchases, consider opening a bank account for a higher level of protection for your funds. (Our Simple Checking account is a great basic option, with no minimum balance fee or additional cost for ordering a debit card. Account requires just $100 to open.)

I received an email that appears to be from my bank because it has their logo, colors and other details that I see on their website. The email asks for personal information like my date of birth and Social Security number as a way to validate my account. Is it safe to reply with this information in an email?

 This is likely a fake - call or visit your bank and ask! Cybercriminals are good at creating fake emails that look legitimate and ask for personal information. These emails are a classic example of “phishing,” a term that describes situations when cybercriminals send unsolicited emails as part of a scheme to steal personal information and access financial accounts.

Editor’s Note: WAFD will never send you an unsolicited email or call you asking you to provide or enter in your personal information. (When you call us, then we may ask you to provide some information so that we can verify that we’re really speaking to you.)

I got a letter and a check in the mail from a sweepstakes. They said my name was entered in their lottery, I won a big prize and that I need to deposit the check in my bank but that I also need to wire money back to them to cover taxes and fees. Am I just lucky or could this be a scam?

It’s most likely a scam ... and one that is costing some consumers a lot of money. Whether the scenario involves a lottery “payment” or some other financial “opportunity,” the key ingredients in the scam are the receipt of a fake check and a requirement to wire back a supposed payment.  (Check out our WashLine post about sweepstake scams for more tips about how to spot them.) 

My lender said that my monthly mortgage payment went up because my escrow payment increased. Why would my escrow payment change?

“Escrow payments typically go up because of a rise in property taxes or home insurance premiums,” said Heather St. Germain, an FDIC senior consumer affairs specialist. “Most lenders require mortgage borrowers to send payments for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance to an escrow account, usually as part of the monthly loan payment. So, an increase in property taxes or insurance would result in an increase in the escrow payment.”

The lender or the mortgage servicer taps the escrow account when each borrower’s tax and insurance bills are due to be paid. That way, the borrower only needs to make one payment to pay three bills — plus the escrow account gives the lender confidence that the taxes and insurance payments on the house (the lender’s collateral backing the loan) are being paid.

What You Can Do: “It’s a good idea to monitor your escrow account to ensure there are no miscalculations of how much you owe for taxes or insurance,” said St. Germain.