Credit and debit cards are useful tools for payments. They do away with the need to carry cash and work online and in person at most merchants. However, this convenience may tempt people to share their cards with others.
Although it’s not only possible but extremely easy to use someone else’s debit or credit card or lend yours, not all banks or credit card companies will permit you to do so. Even if the practice isn't forbidden by the issuer, both the person lending and using the card risk trouble if the issuer or other authorities find out.
Understanding Your Card Terms
Before you share your plastic with a relative, a friend, or an employee, review the cardholder agreement for your debit or credit card to determine whether sharing your card is permitted.
Most issuers require you to make an effort to avoid unauthorized use of the card, which is the use of your debit or credit card without your permission. However, not all issuers treat the sharing of cards as unauthorized use. Some issuers outright prohibit anyone who isn't named on the card from using it. Others note that if you give someone else permission to use your card, it does not count as unauthorized use, but you will be liable for all charges they make.
Using a Card With Permission
Getting approval to transact with someone else's card or giving someone permission to use yours is better than not doing so, but it's important to do your homework and go about it the right way.
Assuming that a card issuer allows the cardholder to give permission to someone else, the cardholder should consult the cardholder agreement to determine how to grant that permission. Some stipulate that you authorize someone else to use your card simply by lending your card or making the account number available to someone else.
If there is no specific instruction for granting permission for card use, it's a good idea for the cardholder to give a signed note to the borrower granting them permission to use the card. If a merchant finds out that you aren't the cardholder and questions you, present the note as an explanation.
Merchants stand to lose from unauthorized transactions.
Merchants risk a chargeback, a disputed charge made to the card issuer that can result in the loss of revenue, if the authorized cardholder is unaware of and later finds out about a card purchase.
Without a permission note, the burden may fall most heavily on the borrower if they are caught using a card without their name on it. A merchant will have no way of knowing about the verbal permission you may have received from the cardholder ahead of time, so the default assumption may be that you're committing fraud. If a merchant asks for identification and you can’t provide it, they may call the police or confiscate the card. What’s worse, the person who gave you the card could later claim that you took it without permission (if you spend too much, for example, or if your relationship sours).
Obtain a signed permission note from the cardholder to avoid the appearance of impropriety when using someone else's card.
Using Cards in Violation of the Agreement
Even if you get permission to transact with someone else’s card (or you allow someone to use your card), if doing so is against the rules of the cardholder's card issuer, the cardholder would be breaking the agreement they signed with the issuer.
Perhaps no one will notice, but if the bank or credit card company does find out that a cardholder improperly allowed someone else to use the card, it may charge the cardholder fees, reduce card limits, close the account, or even take legal action against the cardholder.
Handling Unexpected Charges
When you give someone permission to use your debit or credit card, it may be difficult to recover funds from unexpected purchases because the usage may not be considered unauthorized.
Banks often won’t reimburse you if someone drains your account at an ATM after you give them permission to use your card or the PIN. Likewise, credit card companies hold you responsible for charges by someone whom you permit to use the card. However, Some issuers will revoke the permission you granted to someone if you notify them.
Lending out your card is risky even when your cardholder agreement permits it. There’s no guarantee that someone will only use the card for expenses you intended to pay.
Adding an Authorized User
Instead of using someone else’s debit or credit card or lending out your own, make use of “authorized users.” At an account holder’s request, credit card issuers can provide additional cards with someone else’s name printed on the face. The account still belongs to the primary cardholder, who is responsible for paying off the card, but the authorized user is allowed to use the account for purchases and is not responsible for the debt. If anyone asks the authorized user for identification, everything will match correctly.
Using Cards Without Permission
If you use someone else’s cards without their permission, you're exposing yourself to considerable risks.
Understanding the Penalties
It doesn’t matter what you intend to use the cards for—if you can’t prove that you have permission, problems may be afoot. That means don’t charge small expenses to the card, “borrow” with intentions to repay the cardholder, or even use the card for benefits that won’t cost the cardholder any money. For example, avoid showing the card for free access to cardholder events or services.
Using a debit or credit card without the cardholder’s permission is treated as unauthorized use, a form of fraud that may carry financial or criminal penalties at the federal and state levels. There are separate statutes for stealing card information, which is identity theft.
Handling Accidental Possession
If you receive cards due to an error or you find them on the street, you might argue that you never intended to steal them. Regardless, it’s a bad idea to hang onto anything that might make you look fraudulent. Instead, leave any cards that you find with local police or at the bank or credit card company that issued the cards.
Reporting Unauthorized Use
One way to prevent unauthorized use on your card is to avoid making your card available to someone else on an as-needed basis. If you notice a transaction that was made on your card without your permission, take these steps:
- Report the problem to your card issuer immediately. Your card issuer is the company that you applied for the card with. But if you have a debit card connected to your checking account, contact your bank. You'll only ever liable for up to $50 in unauthorized credit card charges made before you report a card missing, but you'll have to dispute a debit card charge within two days to cap your liability at $50; beyond that, it goes up to $500.
- Change your online account password and your debit PIN.
- Review bank statements and your credit report for suspicious transactions.
- If you find out that you have been a victim of identity theft, report the unauthorized activity to local police. To make a claim with your card issuer, you may need to file a police report and provide a copy of the report.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it illegal to use someone else's credit card?
It's not a crime to use someone else's credit card if their cardholder agreement allows it and you receive permission from the cardholder. Be sure the cardholder carefully reviews their credit card terms before they let you use their card.
How much money can I use on someone else's credit card before it's a crime?
Unless the card owner has explicitly granted you permission to use their card, then even a small purchase on the card is illegal. This is a type of fraud, and you may be subject to criminal and financial liability even for a small transaction.