How to undo unauthorized credit card charges by a family member

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers against unauthorized use, which is fraud, and many card issuers also have zero liability policies


What rights do you have to dispute the charges and ensure your card use is not affected?

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Credit card fraud is an alarming issue, and in most cases you are likely to think the perpetrator is a stranger.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, a family member may be the one who has used your credit card without your knowledge or permission to rack up charges. It could be your child, parent or even your spouse. What are your rights in this sort of situation to ensure that your credit card use is not affected?

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Poonkulali a question.

What qualifies as credit card fraud?

Credit card fraud is the use of someone else’s personal credentials and credit standing to borrow money or use credit cards to purchase goods or services without the intention of repaying the debt. It can include using a stolen credit card, where someone stole your physical card or simply uses your credit card number for unauthorized transactions or cash advances.

If your card was stolen or used without your permission, even if a family member was the one who stole it, you can dispute the charges.

Federal law protects consumers against unauthorized use

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers against unauthorized use of their credit card. You are not liable for unauthorized charges under the FCBA and can dispute them. The law limits consumers’ liability for unauthorized charges to $50.

In addition to the FCBA protections, Visa, Mastercard and many credit card issuers offer zero liability policies for fraud, which means that those reporting fraud may not be responsible even for the $50 liability the FCBA sets up.

Dispute fraudulent charges with the credit card company

Consumers should write to the credit card company so that it receives their complaint within 60 days after they received the first bill with the unauthorized charges. The card issuer is required to acknowledge this complaint within 30 days of receiving it and also resolve the issue in 90 days or less after getting the complaint.

The card issuer will investigate the issue, and you need not make any payments on the disputed amount while this is going on. However, you will have to keep up with your payments on any other charges on the bills that are not disputed. And the card issuer could cut down your credit line by the amount of the dispute. While the investigation is ongoing, the card issuer is not allowed to take any action to collect on the disputed amount.

Other FCBA rights for those who file such disputes include:

  1. The creditor is not allowed to report you as delinquent on the debt.
  2. It cannot ask you to speed up your debt payments.
  3. It cannot close your account, or restrict it, because you have filed a complaint.
  4. The card issuer also cannot deny you credit — or discriminate against you otherwise — just for taking legal FCBA action.

Should you report a family member to the police?

You do have adequate protections against the unauthorized use. That’s the good news.

Where it gets murky is that the card issuer could ask you to file a police report as part of the investigation. In that event, you will have to decide whether you want to formally implicate a family member.

You will have to decide if you want to let this betrayal slide or take action to protect your own interests and finances. If you are not prepared to file a police case, you should be ready to make good on the charges yourself.

To get a better feel for the situation, you could talk to an attorney to find out how filing a police report might hurt your family member, if it came to that. You could then decide how to proceed.

What are some ways to protect your credit card information from people close to you?

There are some steps you could take to hide your credit card information, and other important financial records, from your family members. It may be unnecessary to go to such lengths, but if you suspect that someone has your account number and is making charges, you could protect yourself from future unauthorized charges.

One way is to keep your credit card in a safe place, such as a locked drawer or safe. Another way is to shred or pulverize your credit card statements, before discarding them, after you’ve paid off your bill, of course. Every month, you should thoroughly check your credit card statements to make sure you recognize all the charges, and there are no unauthorized ones.

If you suspect that the same family member or someone else may try to steal your credit card again, you could set up a fraud alert on your credit report. All you have to do is notify one of the three national credit bureaus, and it will inform the other two. An initial fraud alert lasts one year and should be fairly easy to set up. An extended fraud alert lasts seven years, and that requires you to file a police report.

Finally, you can tell your credit card issuer to send you real-time, text or email alerts for any suspicious charges made to your account. That way, you can monitor charges — card-not-present transactions or charges over a certain dollar amount — as they happen.

Bottom line

If a family member used your credit card without your knowledge or permission, it is considered unauthorized use, or fraud. The Fair Credit Billing Act offers protections for unauthorized use of your credit card. You might have to file a police report to avail of some protections in fraudulent use cases. You would then have to decide whether to file a case against a family member.

Contact me at with your credit card-related questions.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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