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Lost movie-rental card? Watch out!

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A lost or stolen video-rental card can pose more of a threat to your financial well-being than a passel of stolen credit cards.

Why?

Because federal law limits your liability to $50 for unauthorized use of a credit card, but there's no similar protection for a video-rental card. If someone uses your card to rent a half-dozen movies or video games, you could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars.

Marine Sgt. J. Ferrese of Camp Lejeune, N.C., knows what it's like to fight that battle. Late last year he received a notice from a local Blockbuster store to return six overdue videos. Problem was, Ferrese hadn't rented the movies. A quick check confirmed that his card was missing, so the sergeant called the store to try to straighten things out. A couple of days later he visited the store and, with the manager, watched a surveillance video that showed a stranger use his card.

Ferrese thought that should have settled things, but he was sorely disappointed. Blockbuster holds members responsible for any tapes rented before the company receives written notification that a card has been lost or stolen. Ferrese was charged $187 for the missing tapes.

Because he was about to be deployed to the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ferrese couldn't risk the damage to his credit record that could result from refusing to pay. So he paid up. But he hasn't given up. He has protested the fee up the Blockbuster corporate ladder, so far to no avail.

Randy Hargrove, Blockbuster's media relations officer, says that the local store manager gave Ferrese a break because the $187 he paid was only a fraction of the actual cost of replacing the videos. (Movies purchased for rental often cost more than the tapes made available for sale to the public.)

To protect yourself from becoming a victim, take the same precautions as you would with a credit or debit card. Write down your account number and the phone number of the store to notify if it is lost or stolen. If a card turns up missing, file a police report. That might sound silly, but it can help convince a video store that charges were unauthorized. Call the store to either close your account or ask that positive ID be required before anyone is allowed to use your card. Follow up with a letter making the same points.