One of the most convenient ways to pay for things is by debit card because the money comes right out of your checking account. However, that same convenient feature also leads to some risk. If your debit card is compromised, a thief won’t just be running up your bill, they’ll be stealing your cash.
It’s important to keep your debit card secure because, unlike with a credit card, debit card transactions are removed from your account immediately. This means you have to wait for your bank to restore funds removed without your permission.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while credit card companies cannot by law hold you liable for fraudulent charges after the first $50 (which is oftentimes waived), the same is not true of debit cards. Your protections with a debit card use a sliding scale that depends on how quickly you report unauthorized activity. In broad terms, the longer it takes you to report your loss, the more you’ll be responsible for.
The biggest caveat is that while signature-based transactions are generally completely covered, charges made with your debit card using your PIN are not refunded.
This means that your PIN is extremely important. Here are a few things you should consider to keep your PIN safe:
- Do not share it with anyone.
- Never let anyone see you enter it at an ATM or point of sale machine.
- Change it regularly.
- Memorize it – don’t write it down anywhere.
- Don’t use the same numbers you use for other passwords.
It’s also important to evaluate the location you’re considering using your debit cards. Independent ATMs, often found in convenience stores and delis, as well as gas pumps, may have “skimmers” – small electronic readers that cover the card slot, but capture the card numbers and PINs for any transactions that occur. This data is then used to make duplicate cards that, in turn, are used for a series of purchases until the fraud is discovered and the compromised account is closed.
Keeping your PIN safe is the first step in debit card safety. Also keep the card itself in a safe place and monitor your checking account regularly using online banking. These steps will help you keep your debit card secure. For more information on card security, read Safe Use of Credit Cards.