This week was National Consumer Protection Week, an initiative of the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies designed to make you a more informed consumer of goods and financial services. So what does being “informed” mean? It means you know how to protect yourself from scams or fraud, know how to use financial services to your benefit, and know there are laws in place to protect you.

In honor of National Consumer Protection Week, we’re sharing some tips that may be helpful if you’re a credit card user (or if you’re planning to get a credit card soon).

We’ll start with some credit card basics, and then cover what to do if you notice suspicious activity on your account.

Credit Card Basics

  • A credit card is a type of loan. If you pay it back on time and in full, by your due date, you could avoid interest entirely.
  • Credit cards can be helpful if you’re low on cash now, but know you’ll have the money soon (for example, during your next pay period).
  • If you don’t pay off your balance in full by your due date each month, you could end up paying substantial interest and fees.
  • To learn more about the benefits of a credit card, how to avoid the risks and how to understand your finance charges, you can take our quick education courses.

Suspicious Activity

It’s important to check your accounts regularly. At minimum, you should sign in to your online accounts once a month — but once a week is even better. Some providers may notify you if there is a suspicious activity, but it’s safer to protect yourself by checking often.

If you notice something unusual on your credit card transactions or statement, you have the right to dispute it, and your card provider will then investigate the transaction. Contact your card provider to confirm important details about how long you have to report suspicious activity.

Types of Suspicious Activity

Unauthorized use

  • Was your card lost or stolen, or used without your permission? If someone makes purchases without your permission, this is called unauthorized use.
  • If you report your card as lost or stolen before someone makes unauthorized purchases, you should not be responsible for any charges.
  • If someone steals your card and makes purchases before you report it, you may be responsible for some of the charges. Generally, your liability for loss (or how much you’ll be responsible for paying) should not be more than $50.
  • What if you still have your card, but someone has obtained and used your credit card account number? Under those circumstances, you should not be held responsible for any unauthorized charges.

Billing error

  • If you notice a billing error, contact your card provider right away using the phone number on the back of your card (or on your monthly statement).
  • If you have an automatic bill payment scheduled, be sure to contact your card provider at least three days before the payment is scheduled to debit from your account.
  • In most cases, you must follow up with a written report within 60 days after the charge appears on your statement.
  • Your provider has 30 days to confirm receipt of your written report, and will decide if your dispute is valid (and respond) within 60 days.
  • Typically, you still have to pay any part of your bill that is not in dispute. If you’ve submitted a written report, your card provider cannot charge you interest on the disputed amount.
  • Please note that the disputed amount may still appear on your statement while your provider is investigating.

Is there an area of personal finance that you’d like us to cover in a course or Fast Financial Fact? Where do you struggle with managing your finances? We’d like to know! Please get in touch at education(at)lendup(dot)com.

Disclaimer: LendUp is not providing financial, legal or tax advice. If you need or want such advice, please consult a qualified advisor.