The moment you realize that something is wrong is terribly frightening. Your chest tightens and you begin to panic. Maybe you went to an ATM and were told that you had a negative balance. Maybe you were making a purchase with your debit card and were declined. Or maybe you were checking your balance online and found several unauthorized transactions.
No matter how you find out about the theft it can come as quite of a shock. Your privacy has been violated and the money you have worked so hard for is gone.
Your account may have been compromised in any of a number of ways. Don't let the initial wave of panic keep you from taking action. The first task is to find out just how your account has been compromised.
Calling your bank is simply not enough for this. Visit your bank in person and meet with an account's representative. They should be able to determine just how the money came out of your account; if it was through using your debit card, at the ATM, electronically, online, or by a check.
If it was electronically or with your debit card many times the banker has the ability to locate a phone number of the company that is receiving the money. This can be helpful in determining just how the thief was using your information.
If the theft occurred using your debit card or debit card number this will be the best news you'll hear. The card can simply be blocked, preventing the need to close your account completely. Also, US federal regulation E gives you certain rights and protections when a theft occurs using your card information.
If the theft involved your account number, however, you will need to close the account completely and establish a new one. This can be a nightmare, particularly if you have many direct deposits or withdrawals on your account. Each one will have to be changed manually by calling the company that issues the direct deposit or take the withdrawal.
At this point the banker should be filling out paperwork to file a fraud claim. The bank then will investigate your claim. Typically the bank has a specific time frame to complete the investigation but they can get an extension.
In the meantime, that money that is missing could be missing for some time. It could take a few months for you to get that money back from the bank. This is why timely action is so important. This news will likely be nearly as bad as finding out about the theft in the first place.
With identity theft and fraud on the rise it is very important to safeguard your personal information and account numbers. The federal government has protections in place for you, but that will not eliminate all of your problems. There is no substitution for taking proper care to protect your information.