Automatic Debit Risks

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Automatic debits are automatic, electronic withdrawals from your checking account.

You authorize a utility or a creditor to automatically charge your account each month for their payment. It’s touted as a hassle-free option since there are no checks to write, postage to pay, and you don’t have to remember to write the check each month.

However, if you decide to cancel it, receive a new debit card with a new number, or change banks; problems may arise. Make sure you notify the agency immediately with any changes. If you change banks, remember to inform the creditor you have a new account and keep your old account open until the debits are switched. If you close your account too early, you might get hit with overdraft fees from your bank and returned item fees from your creditor.

You also have to watch out for automatic debit scams.

One of the most common is when a telemarketer calls and tells you that you have won a free gift, but they need your checking account for “verification purposes”. You give it to them, and then notice automatic charges hitting your checking account several months later. You often don’t know it is happening until after your money is gone. How can you protect yourself from these scams? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t give out your checking account number over the phone unless you are sure of the company you are giving it to.
  • Ask why they need it. 
  • Verifiable authorization is required by law. That means if you authorize payment of money from your bank account, they must get your written authorization, tape record your authorization, or send you a written confirmation before debiting your bank account.

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud, contact your bank and the State Attorney General.

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