Unknown Charge on Debit Card: What Can You Do?

Article Summary:

Unknown charges on debit cards can have a number of causes, including a stolen card, fraud, simple forgetfulness, or a mistake by the bank. If you see an unknown charge on your bank account, there are steps you can take to investigate the unknown charges and limit any further charges. Government protections can limit or remove liability for fraudulent charges, but you must report them quickly.

Imagine checking your bank statement and going through all the charges to confirm them. There was that Taco Bell meal you had, check. The new pair of shoes that you purchased from Target, check. And the automatic monthly charge for your Netflix subscription, check. Then, you see a strange charge for “Hair Club for Men” that surely wasn’t you. You definitely aren’t going bald, right?

As you look at yourself in the mirror to confirm that you aren’t going bald, you start to wonder. Could it be something more dubious, such as fraud, or maybe a mistake? If you find an unknown charge on your debit card, here are some steps that you can take to resolve the situation.

Step 1: Put the card on hold (if you can)

Most banks have mobile banking services that allow users to put their credit or debit cards on “hold” or “pause.” Even if you’re “sure” you still have your debit card, and it’s just in a different pair of pants, this is a risk-free step that can prevent further mystery charges. If you do end up making sense of the charge and you still have your debit card, you can remove the hold with ease within your banking app.

If you don’t have mobile banking, you might want to call your bank or credit union and see if you are able to put the card on hold. There is usually a number to call on the back of the card.

Step 2: Make sure you still have the card

Before you jump to conclusions about your card being stolen, check to see if you still have the card in your possession. Even if you do, this does not mean that there weren’t any unlawful transactions. Some criminals will set up ATMs with software that copies card details when you go to withdraw money. This is called skimming, and according to the FBI, it costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year. Someone could also have hacked into a company that had your debit card details on file or hacked into your own personal computer.

Step 3: Check your account for other unauthorized transactions

Once you have put your debit card on hold, you now have some time to put your forensic accountant hat on. A good rule of thumb is to look at your last two months of bank statements with a fine-tooth comb. (It’s a good personal finance habit to check these regularly anyway). Any other charges that you don’t recognize could be red flags. If you find more hair-growth-related products, maybe someone in your family just doesn’t want to tell you something! Either way, more charges that you don’t recognize could indicate a fraudulent pattern.

If you’re looking for a debit card with good customer service that can help you through a situation like this, check what SuperMoney users have to say about read through reviews of various checking accounts.

What is a ghost charge?

Some banks will check to see if money is available in your account with a “ghost charge.” This is not a real charge but is a request for the bank to reserve a bit of money. These charges might be visible on your bank or credit card statement or not. If you don’t follow through with the purchase, the ghost charge will disappear. But it can be confusing in the meantime.

Step 4: Call your bank or card issuer

If your questions remain unsolved, it’s time to call or visit the bank. Makes sure you have your debit card and/or account number handy and report that there is unauthorized money leaving your checking account. They might be able to explain some details that help you understand the unknown charge. If it’s a credit card instead of a debit card, you will need to call the credit card issuer and report the unknown charges.

Pro Tip

If you do call the bank to report unauthorized activity, this would be a good time to take some further precautionary steps to protect your information or data. Changing your ATM’s PIN and your online account username and password is a smart move if you are suspicious about possible data breaches.

Step 5: Report it as fraud and cancel the card

If you confirm that the card has indeed been racking up unauthorized charges, you need to report it to your bank’s fraud department. You must report it in a timely manner to receive any money you are due. Under the United States Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers are only liable for $50 of fraudulent transactions. Debit cards fall under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, in which liability is only $50 if reported within two days. If reported within 60 days, the consumer is only liable for unauthorized charges up to $500. After 60 days, you could theoretically be liable for all charges, so be sure to report these issues quickly.

How to avoid getting your debit card and info stolen?

Having to go through the process of recouping stolen funds can be a nightmare. Here are some pointers:

Don’t reply to obvious spam or phishing emails.

If you receive emails or texts about crazy opportunities to earn money, especially ones from strange or unidentified numbers, don’t ever reply. You might be opening yourself up to spyware or going down a rabbit hole of someone getting you to provide your banking or debit card details.

Try to use contactless payment when possible.

Most of the card readers and skimming programs are attached to card machines that operate in a traditional manner rather than with contactless payment. If you have a digital wallet or your phone is able to make a contactless payment, this option will mitigate the risk of having your card information stolen.

Be careful of ATMs in foreign countries.

If you withdraw money while traveling in a foreign country, try to go to an official ATM inside of a bank. Even some of the ATMs in airports could have been hacked into or had software placed inside that reads and steals card info.


Why is my card getting random charges or transactions?

Your card could be showing random charges because it was physically stolen, the information was stolen, you bought something that you forgot about, or a friend or family member used it. Another possibility is a ghost authorization in which a third party checks to see if you have funds available.

Are you liable for unauthorized debit card charges?

You are only liable for up to $50 if you report it within two days or up to $500 if you report it within 60 days. Debit cards fall under the protection of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA).

How do I find out where a charge came from?

When and where the charge was made can typically be found on your debit card’s bank statement. If this is unavailable or unclear, you will need to call your bank. For a credit card or credit card issuer partnership, call the relevant credit card company or partnered financial institution.

What to do if there’s an unknown transaction?

If you spot an unknown transaction, put a pause or hold on the card immediately. Afterward, you can follow the relevant steps as listed above, like check further statements, call the bank to report the unknown charge, and finally report it as fraud.

How can I stop unwanted charges on my debit card?

If the charges occurred because your card was stolen or skimmed, you will need to get a new debit card. If the charges are related to something that you bought but forgot about, like a subscription service, then cancel the subscription.

Can I find out who used my card online?

Usually, you cannot find out who used your card online. However, in most cases, you can find out when it was used, where it was used, and for what purpose.

Key takeaways

  • Unknown charges on a debit card can be related to a number of issues, such as forgetfulness, family members using the card, or theft and fraud.
  • If you notice unknown charges on your debit card, the first step is to put the account or card on hold. You can then check for a pattern of other unwanted charges and call the bank to take proper action.
  • The EFTA covers debit cards, but make sure that you report fraud in a timely manner. A fraudulent transaction reported in two days can ensure your maximum liability is only $50. For an unauthorized transaction reported within 60 days, the maximum liability is $500.
  • Be smart about your card to prevent fraud or having your information stolen. Change your passwords frequently, be careful about the ATMs you use, and avoid spam emails or phishing scams.
View Article Sources
  1. Electronic Fund Transfer Act – FTC.gov
  2. Fair Credit Billing Act – FTC.gov
  3. Skimming – FBI.gov
  4. Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes: Options Against Identity Fraud – SuperMoney
  5. Lost or Stolen Wallet? 6 Things You Need To Do Immediately – SuperMoney