If someone fraudulently uses your credit or debit card, what costs could you be liable for? It’s an important question because the risk is high: More than 25% of respondents to a 2012 study by ACI Worldwide and Aite Group have been a victim of credit, debit or prepaid card fraud during the preceding five years.

In the United States, a cardholder’s liability for a fraudulent transaction can depend on the type of card used as well as the transaction type, so be sure to review the agreement with your card provider. However, several general guidelines typically come into play.

Credit Cards

If your credit card is used without your permission, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If your card is lost or stolen and you report the lossbefore your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company.

When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the card company via phone; many provide toll-free numbers that are answered around the clock. In addition, the FTC advises following up via a letter or e-mail. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.

Debit Cards

The liability if your debit card is used without your permission will vary depending on whether the card was lost or stolen or is still in your possession, the type of transaction, and when you reported the loss or unauthorized transaction.

According to the FTC, if you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for the unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.

If you report the card loss after that time but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was mailed, you could be liable for all the funds taken from your account.

If you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is in your possession, you have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is mailed to report it and still avoid liability.

While the lower protections required on debit cards may make you wonder if you’re safer using a credit card, some debit card companies offer protections that go above what the law requires. For instance, some don’t hold customers responsible for unauthorized charges. Others don’t hold customers responsible for transactions completed with a signature, but do hold them responsible, according to the time frames outlined above, when a personal identification number (PIN) is used.

Good Standing

Some card providers require the account to be in good standing and the cardholder to have exercised reasonable care in safeguarding the card in order to receive the protections. Finally, review your homeowners insurance policy. Some will cover the liabilities you incur because your credit or debit card was stolen.