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Help! My bank account is frozen

Here's how to fix it — and stop it from happening again.

Updated

Banks can freeze your account for a number of reasons, but the most common one is suspected fraud. And if it happens while you’re overseas, it could put you in a tough situation. In any case, you’ll need to contact your bank and prove your identity in order to get your account unlocked.

How to unfreeze your account

Whether you’re on home soil or overseas, you’ll need to contact your bank as soon as possible if you need to unfreeze or unlock your bank account. Most banks will require you to call in to verify your identity — you probably won’t be able to log in online to fix the problem. If possible, use Wi-Fi calling or a landline to avoid international roaming charges from your cell phone company.

Why is my account frozen?

Banks need to be more vigilant than ever to protect their customers against fraud. As part of this protection, banks have systems in place to monitor customer accounts for any suspicious activity.

In the US

Cashing bad checks, making unusual purchases or large deposits and having inaccurate personal information can lead to your account being flagged. Banks also look out for small purchases that are immediately followed by large ones, as thieves often use small purchases to test an account before buying what they want.

Overseas

When your credit or debit card is used to make a purchase in a different country without warning, it can be a sign that it was stolen. To protect your account, your bank may freeze it until you can verify your identity and that the card is in your possession.

How can I prevent my account from being frozen?

Banks are always on the lookout for suspicious activity, so you should take precautions to avoid having your account frozen by accident.

At home

Avoid making unusually large deposits or purchases, make sure all checks you cash are legitimate and keep your personal information up to date.

Additionally, try not to stray too far from your usual spending habits; if you usually spend $10-$20 per day on your debit card, suddenly buying luxury items or shopping in expensive stores could raise suspicion.

While traveling

To keep your account from being flagged for potential fraud while traveling, let your bank know where and when you plan to travel before you leave. You can do this by calling your bank, visiting a branch or using the online platform or mobile app.

You can also provide details of the best way for the bank to get in touch with you while overseas. You can log back into Internet banking at any time, even if you’re already overseas, to make changes to your travel plans.

Tips for accessing money while traveling

Whether you’re going on an upstate road trip or taking a vacation overseas, here’s how you can easily and affordably access money while traveling:

  • Watch out for fees. Find out what your bank charges for foreign transaction and ATM fees. If you travel often, consider getting a travel-friendly credit card.
  • Consider a travel money card. A prepaid travel card can help you save money and avoid bringing your debit card. Look for a card that allows you to take advantage of the best exchange rate and also avoid any unnecessary fees.
  • Use cash and cards. Take a combination of cash and cards with you so you can pay for all your purchases. There are some situations overseas where cash will be the only payment option, while cards add extra flexibility and security.
  • Don’t exchange currency at the airport. Airport foreign exchange companies tend to offer poor exchange rates. You’ll get a better deal if you purchase your foreign currency in advance or even when you arrive at your destination.
  • Check card expiration dates. You don’t want to get halfway around the world only to discover that your credit or debit card is about to expire.

Bottom line

If your account is frozen for any reason, you should immediately call your bank to speak to a customer service representative. In most cases, you’ll be able to verify your identity and get your card unlocked almost instantly. And if you’re not happy with the customer service you’re getting, compare other bank accounts so that you don’t have to deal with this next time.

Frequently asked questions

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