Electronic fraud, from the illicit production of ATM cards to Internet-based "phishing" scams, have become increasingly prevalent. Federal banking regulations offer consumers significant protections against fraud and limiting the liability that consumers. Financial institutions must follow the Federal Reserve's Regulation E, which governs electronic transfers. Under the regulation, banks must return money and complete an investigation into reported fraud -- or any other type of error -- within 10 days. If they cannot complete the investigation, they must provisionally return money to a consumer's account. In these situations, the bank has 45 days to investigate, and can remove provisionally returned money within that time period.
Take the experience of a Fox television reporter, as told to MSNBC.com. The producer discovered a significant amount of money missing from her account. She reported the matter to her bank, which issued a provisional credit of £650. The bank later removed the money from her account -- two weeks later, but within the 45 day period -- because it blamed her for the missing money. Fraudsters apparently obtained her ATM pin number. In the end, the producer was able to show she was nowhere near the locations where the money was withdrawn. Funds were eventually returned.
When a customer is a victim of an electronic fraud, U.S. banking regulations limit the victim's liability to £32 if the bank is made aware of the incident within two days of the theft. If the victim fails to notify the bank within this time, the victim may be liable for £325 in losses. These rules are found in the Federal Reserve's Regulation E.
Fraud involving debit card scams, which do not cover all forms of bank fraud discussed in Regulation E, have cost banks big bucks. According to the American Bankers Association, banks lost £512 million to debit card scams in 2008. In 2003, the association pegged such thefts at £94 million.
Extension of Time to Restore
The 10-day timeline does not apply in a few specific circumstances. If the account is a new account, the bank has 20 days to restore the funds. The 10-day period also does not apply if the account is a brokerage account. The limit also may not apply if a consumer gives the bank oral notice of an error, but fails to provide written notice within 10 days of the initial notice.
Extension of Time to Investigate
The bank may take 90 days to investigate the transaction if it occurred outside the U.S., or if the transaction involved a point-of-sale terminal. Banks may also take 90 days to investigate a transaction if the account is less than 30 days old.