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Question:


A family friend took money from my account without my permission. What can I do?
-Outraged


Answer:


As with many aspects of financial services, and life in general, the devil is in the details. The recourse you have depends in part on the mechanism used to take the money from you. Did your friend swipe a check of yours and forge your name on it? Was your debit card stolen and used to withdraw cash? If so, how did the friend know your PIN code? Did he or she know your online password and extract the money from you that way?

I wonder if you might have been indirectly complicit in your own loss. Perhaps you invited your friend to take money from your account for some legitimate reason, either with a blank check or online banking details, and your friend changed the amount. If you facilitated the loss through such overt action, then it may be harder to get the money back than if it had been a straightforward case of theft through forgery or, say, if your friend had rifled through your desk drawers and found personal account information when you left the room for a moment during a visit.

The first step in either case is to notify your bank, which will look into the transaction and report the findings back to you. If the withdrawal was with a debit card or an electronic fund transfer, federal law requires the bank to conduct an investigation within a schedule of deadlines for gathering facts and furnishing you with the results. If your friend flat-out stole your card and/or PIN, and you reported the theft, your liability could be limited, but the longer it took you to inform the bank, the more you’ll be on the hook for. If, on the other hand, you gave your friend an incomplete check or a card and PIN or other personal account details, you may end up losing your money, as well as your friend.

-Conrad de Aenlle



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