What to Do When a Family Member Uses Your Credit Card Unauthorized

By Dan Miller · October 17, 2022 · 6 minute read

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What to Do When a Family Member Uses Your Credit Card Unauthorized

One of the main advantages of using a credit card for purchases is that, in most cases, you’re not liable for fraudulent charges. If your card is lost or stolen, usually all it takes is a quick chat with your credit card issuer to resolve the issue. Where this gets a bit murkier is when it’s a family member or friend who uses your credit card without your permission.

While you’re still not liable, the process of dealing with unauthorized credit card charges by family members or friends can get more complicated. Your credit card issuer may want you to file a police report and even take legal action against the person who made the charges. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth potentially damaging your relationship with your family member or friend.

Authorized vs Unauthorized Credit Card Charges

While you are legally responsible for paying back any authorized credit card charges, in most cases, you will not need to cover any unauthorized credit card charges.

Most credit cards come with a 0% liability guarantee, meaning that you’re not liable for any unauthorized or fraudulent charges that were made with your credit card or account information. This can help protect you against credit card scams and other fraudulent activity, as well as charges made to your card without your permission.

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Legal Protection Against Unauthorized Use of Credit Cards

There are two main federal laws that help to protect you against unauthorized use of your credit card or account information:

•   Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA): This law limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50, though many card issuers lower your liability to $0 for all unauthorized charges.

•   Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA): Sometimes referred to as Reg E, this law limits liability for ATM transactions or debit card charges, among other types of transactions, if it’s reported within 60 days.

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Tips for Handling Accidental Possession of Credit Cards

One of the best things you can do to help avoid unauthorized use of your credit card by a third party is to keep it in your possession. Make sure you know where your credit cards are at all times, especially if you have teens or other adults living in your home.

It’s also a great idea to regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts. That way, you can spot any unauthorized charges quickly.

Tips for Handling Unauthorized Credit Card Charges

If unauthorized charges were made to your credit card, here are some tips for how to handle the situation.

Contact Your Credit Card Issuer

The first thing you’ll want to do if you spot an unauthorized credit card charge on your account is to contact your credit card issuer. You can do this by calling the number printed on the back of your credit card or contacting your issuer through your online account.

Request a Refund

As the refund process may vary slightly by issuer, the customer service representative you talk with can help you figure out how to request one. A refund is also sometimes referred to as a credit card chargeback. In many cases, the bank will provisionally credit your account within 24-48 hours while they investigate the fraudulent charges.

File a Police Report

In some cases, your bank or credit card company may request you to fill out a police report. In other cases, the card issuer may file a police report themselves. This can make the situation complicated if it’s a friend or family member who made the unauthorized charges.

Disputing Credit Card Charges

Disputing credit card charges is another term for reporting unauthorized or fraudulent activity on your account. When you dispute a credit card charge, you’re letting the card issuer know that you believe you should not be responsible for paying that particular charge. It’s important to dispute any fraudulent charges as soon as possible.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Reporting Unauthorized Credit Card Use

It’s good financial practice to regularly review your bank and credit card accounts for a number of reasons. One reason is to report any unauthorized credit card use as soon as you see it. The best way of handling fraudulent charges is to report them immediately and then let your bank or credit card company investigate them.

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Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Fraud and Unauthorized Use

There are two things that you’ll want to do to avoid unauthorized use on your credit card:

•   First, make sure that you keep track of your cards and don’t leave them where someone else might use them.

•   Second, regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts. That way, you can report any unauthorized use to avoid being liable for any credit card purchase interest charges that may accrue otherwise.

The Takeaway

Federal law limits consumer’s liability for fraudulent or unauthorized charges, and most credit cards have a $0 fraud liability policy. So if you do have any unauthorized or fraudulent charges, make sure to report them to your credit card issuer right away.

Where it can get complicated is if it’s a friend or family member who made the unauthorized charge. In the case of unauthorized use of a credit card by a family member or friend, you’ll need to decide whether to try and get the money back directly from that individual or report the charge to your card issuer, which may mean filing a police report.

To learn more about options for protecting your credit cards and tips for managing your accounts, explore our credit card guide.


Who is liable for unauthorized credit card charges?

Federal law limits a consumer’s liability for unauthorized credit card charges and credit card fees stemming from unauthorized use. If you see a charge on your credit card account that you don’t recognize, make sure to report it to your card issuer as soon as possible.

How do credit cards investigate unauthorized charges?

Credit card companies have a variety of different ways that they investigate unauthorized charges. They may contact the merchant, review video from the purchase, or check online activity. In some cases, they may work with local law enforcement and/or pursue criminal charges.

Should you report a family member for unauthorized credit card use?

Whether or not you report a family member for unauthorized credit card use depends on the situation. Keep in mind that reporting a family member for unauthorized credit card use may lead to the card issuer pressing charges against them for fraud. So, depending on your relationship, you may not want to report your family member to the card issuer and instead try to get the money back directly from them.

Photo credit: iStock/Erdark

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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