Unauthorised transactions and in particular, credit card fraud, are on the increase. This fact sheet explains how to prevent unauthorised transactions and what to do when they occur.
Download our printer friendly version here (PDF): Unauthorised Transactions
This fact sheet is for information only. It is recommended that you get legal advice about your situation.
Carlos was at a restaurant with his new girlfriend Jenny. He decided to pay his half of the bill by credit card. He was shocked and embarrassed, when the waiter came back and told him the credit card transaction had not been approved. Jenny offered to pay for the meal. Carlos was very upset, as he knew he had $2000 in available funds in his credit card account.
Carlos rang the bank to find out what had happened. He was told there had been a lot of activity on his credit card in the last week and now the balance was over the limit by almost $1000. Carlos told the bank that none of these transactions had been authorised by him. He had not used his credit card for over a week. Carlos was told to review his credit card statement and let the bank in writing know which transactions were not authorised.
WHAT IS AN UNAUTHORISED TRANSACTION?
An unauthorised transaction is one you did not agree to allow. This is the critical question in determining whether you are liable for the transaction amount. As a general rule, you are not liable for unauthorised transactions. Although there are circumstances where you may be held liable for some or all of the transaction (see below).
To explain it is more useful to give examples of when a transaction IS authorised:
For deposit accounts:
- You use your PIN to access money from your account
- You complete and sign a cheque in favour of someone
- You sign a deposit slip to withdraw money from your account
- You give your ATM Card and PIN to someone else to access your account
For credit card accounts:
- You use your PIN to authorise a credit card purchase
- You sign a credit card slip
- You give your credit card details over the telephone or Internet
- You present your card for payment (with or without signature)
If you did not authorise a transaction then you should seek a refund from your financial institution for the amount of that unauthorised transaction. See Making a Complaint below on how to seek a refund.
If you have authorised the transaction and did not receive the goods and services you paid for then as a general rule you cannot seek a refund from the financial institution. You must complain to the merchant to get a refund. The only possible exception is when you pay for goods and services using your credit card. Then you may be able to get your financial institution to “chargeback” the amount. See Fact Sheet: Chargebacks for more information.
WHAT IF THERE IS AN UNAUTHORISED TRANSACTION ON MY ACCOUNT?
Always check your account statements to check if there are any unauthorised transactions on your account.
Step 1: You need to urgently ring your financial institution and tell them that there is an unauthorised transaction on your account as soon as you notice it. Do not delay!
Step 2: In some circumstances you should immediately put a “stop” on your account (for example if your card has been stolen or it appears that someone else may be using your card details).
Step 3: You must also write to your financial institution confirming when you rang them and told them about the unauthorised transaction and what the transaction was. This letter must be sent prior to the due date for payment on your credit card statement. Keep a copy of this letter.
MAKING A COMPLAINT
If the financial institution believes you are liable and you do not agree you should:
Step 1: Complain to your financial institution, listing the reasons why the transaction was unauthorised and why you should not be held liable. This should be done immediately as different time limits apply.
Keep a copy of this letter.
Step 2: If the financial institution does not resolve your complaint within a reasonable time (for example 30 days), you should make a complaint to an external dispute resolution scheme. The relevant schemes are:
- Financial Ombudsman Service Australia (Ph 1800 367 287 fos.org.au). Also see Fact Sheet: Dispute Resolution
- Credit and Investments Ombudsman (Ph 1800 138 422 cio.org.au). Also see Fact Sheet: Dispute Resolution
You should always lodge your complaint as soon as it is clear that you cannot resolve your dispute with your financial institution as time limits apply to your right to complain.
IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES COULD I BE HELD LIABLE FOR AN UNAUTHORISED TRANSACTION?
You may be held liable for any unauthorised transaction if:
- You contributed to the loss on the balance of probabilities. An example of this would be writing your PIN on your ATM Card or on a document you keep with it.
- You keep your passwords saved in a mobile device which is stolen and used to make an unauthorised transaction.
- In the case of unauthorised credit card transactions, you delayed unreasonably in notifying the financial institution of the unauthorised transaction.
This is a guide only. If the financial institution is claiming you are liable for an unauthorised transaction you should seek legal advice. See Factsheet: Getting Help for details.
HOW CAN I REDUCE THE CHANCE OF UNAUTHORISED TRANSACTIONS ON MY ACCOUNT?
- Keep your PIN or password secret. Do not use a PIN someone could guess, for example your birthday or part of your name.
- Never write your PIN or password on your card or on a document kept with your card. If possible memorise your PIN and do not write it anywhere. Do not let anyone see you entering your PIN/password at an ATM or EFTPOS machine
- Immediately report any irregularity, such as a merchant who passes your card through more than one piece of equipment, or retains your card for an unreasonably long period when accepting payment, to your financial institution.
NEED SOME MORE HELP?
See Fact Sheet: Getting Help for a list of additional resources.
Last Updated: February 2017