Using Somebody Else's Card: The Risks

Permission Helps, but It's Still Against the Rules

Woman on phone in shop, looking at a credit card.
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Credit and debit cards are useful tools for payments. They work online and in person, and it’s easy to use somebody else’s card at most merchants. People often share their cards with others, and stolen cards also get used in ways that card issuers never intended.

Although it’s easy to use somebody else’s card, credit cards have an authorized cardholder’s name printed on them. If anybody else uses the card, the person using the card risks legal troubles, and the cardholder may face problems with the card issuer—as well as unexpected charges.

Unauthorized Use

Notifying your card issuer should prevent additional charges on the card, and doing so maximizes your protection under federal law. The longer you wait, the more your liability increases.

Fraudulent or unauthorized use is obviously a problem. If your card gets used without your permission:

  1. 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, you can contact your bank.
  2. Report 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. The individual who used the card may face criminal charges (more on that below).

Using a Card With Permission

What happens when you use somebody else’s card with permission (or you allow somebody to use your card)? Even with permission, that practice is against the card issuer’s rules, so the account holder is breaking the agreement they signed with the issuer.

Most of the time, nobody will notice or care, but you should be aware that it’s technically against the rules. Given how easy it is to make self-service payments at gas pumps or online stores, it's no surprise that cards are often used by friends, spouses, employees, and others.

If your bank or credit card company finds out that you’re lending out your card, there’s a chance that the issuer will close your account.

Unexpected charges

Warning

Lending out your card is risky. There’s no guarantee that somebody will only use the card for expenses you intend to pay.

When you let somebody use your card, it’s hard to recover funds from unexpected purchases because the usage was not unauthorized. Banks won’t reimburse you if somebody drains your account at an ATM after you give them permission to use your card and the PIN.

The Risk for “Borrowers”

Using somebody else’s card is risky. Nobody really knows if you received permission 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, things might get complicated—the card might be taken away, the police might be involved, and so on. What’s more, the person who gave you the card can later claim that you took it without permission (if you spend too much, for example, or if your relationship sours). In many cases, transaction records and store surveillance video can be used to bring charges against you.

Get Permission in Writing

Tip

If you must use somebody else’s card (which you really shouldn’t do) get a signed note from the cardholder saying you have permission to do so.

Keep the note tucked away unless you really need it. If you use the card at a store, the merchant does not want to know that you have somebody else's card—they're risking a chargeback, and stores stand to lose money unless the authorized cardholder made the purchase.

Get Authorized

Instead of using somebody else’s credit card or lending out your card, make use of “authorized users.” At an account holder’s request, credit card issuers can provide additional cards with somebody 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. If anybody asks the authorized user for identification, everything matches correctly.

Using Cards Without Permission?

When you use a card without the cardholder’s permission, it’s a form of identity theft. States are broadening definitions of what constitutes ID theft, and penalties for those activities are getting more severe. The details vary from state to state, so visit with a local attorney if you have questions regarding your particular situation.

Warning

In many states, merely possessing somebody else’s card is illegal.

Possession of multiple cards—or other financial tools listed below—can quickly bring the crime into felony territory (if it wasn’t already a felony). In addition to criminal charges from the state, you may have to pay restitution to account holders and other victims.

No harm, no foul? If you have somebody else’s cards, you’re playing with fire. It doesn’t matter what you intend to use the cards for—if you can’t prove that you have permission, you’ve got problems. That means you can’t “borrow” with intentions to repay the cardholder, and you can’t even use the card for benefits that won’t cost the cardholder any money. For example, you can’t show the card for free access to cardholder events or services or use the card to purchase goods and return them before the bill is due.

You never stole anything? It doesn’t matter how you gain possession of the cards. If you receive cards due to an error or if you find them on the street, you could argue that you never intended to steal them. However, it’s a bad idea to hang onto anything that might make you look like an identity thief.

Tip

Leave any cards you find with local police, the lost and found wherever you found the cards, or at a bank that issued the cards.

Beyond Cards

Debit and credit cards are not the only way to trigger identity theft charges. Many states outlaw the unauthorized possession of anyfinancial transaction device,” such as:

It may also be illegal to possess information that you could potentially use to access somebody else’s account or account information, such as:

  • Usernames and passwords
  • Social Security Numbers
  • An individual’s mother’s maiden name (you might know this about anybody, so the facts and circumstances are important—a spreadsheet with this information is, of course, more problematic than your casual knowledge of a friend’s family)
  • Other personal information

Warning

It’s often illegal to possess tools for financial identity theft, such as card skimmers and similar equipment.