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Atm/Debit Card, How to Safely Use It

Updated on January 15, 2020
cherylone profile image

Budgets and bookkeeping have always come so easy to me. I had planned to be a CPA, but life kind of got in the way.



So Convenient

ATM cards and Debit cards were actually created to be different items. An ATM card allowed a person to perform transactions to their bank accounts via an automated teller machine or ATM. A debit card allowed a person to pay for things by having the funds removed directly from their accounts at the time of the transaction. Now, we can do both using the same card which makes things very convenient, but even less safe.

Most of us have an ATM/Debit card attached to one or more of our bank accounts. They are easy to use, convenient to carry, and are accepted just about everywhere. So what could be bad about them? ATM/Debit Cards are so convenient that they have actually become hazardous to your financial health. Read on to find out why and how to protect yourself.

Just for reference sake, I will refer to ATM/Debit cards as debit cards from this point forward.

Easy to Use

However, because they are so easy to use, we often forget we have used them. We buy our lunch, get that special coffee during break, pick up ‘a few things’ on the way home, and splurge for that special something we’ve wanted for a while now. Then we get home and pay our bills. Three days later, we receive a notice that we are overdrawn on our account. How? Because we forgot to record all of those little purchases that we made during the day.

One way to avoid this problem is to keep your check register with your card and record all purchases right away. If you can't keep the register with you, keep the receipts with the card and record them as soon as you can. By recording your purchases as soon as you make them, you help to ensure that you won't over-spend. Keep an up-to-date balance in your register at all times so you know exactly what you have at any given time. An example of a completed register is shown below.

For Reference Only

But I checked my balance before I went shopping!
But I checked my balance before I went shopping! | Source

Never Assume the Balance You See is Corrected

When we check our balances, either on-line or at the ATM, we forget to account for all of the little purchases we have made that might not have been processed by the bank yet. We see a balance of, say, $100 and think, woo hoo, we have money to spend! Later we find that the rent check didn’t clear because we had used the money for something else--uh oh!

The bank isn't omnipotent. Sometimes the electronic items, and often the check items, don't make it to the bank right away and so the bank says we have more money than we actually have. Don't fall for that trap! Always use your check register to determine how much money you have left. Also remember that places like gas stations and convenient stores can, by law, put a hold on your account of up to $100 depending upon your purchase. This hold does not show in your account but can cause you to overdraw. Don't be afraid to ask! And if the hold is too much, try using a credit card or going elsewhere for your purchase.

Debit Cards/Credit Cards

Anyone can use a Debit Card as a credit card and the charge goes through if the account has money. Debit Cards can be used as credit cards without any pin number and without the cashier even seeing the card. In fact all you need is the card itself or the account number and the expiration date, especially when you use the card on-line where just about anything can be purchased.

Tell the bank to limit your Debit Card to pin purchases only. That way anyone using your card will have to have the pin number in order for the transaction to go through. Also, if you mark the card with 'see id' instead of your signature, the cashier is supposed to check your ID before processing. Today, however, they never even see the card when we swipe it and then put it away. Banks can also put a special notation on your account that authorization is needed from you before certain transactions can be done (for example on-line). This is not convenient, but it is safer; however, be aware that the bank is not legally committed to following this rule and unauthorized transactions may still slip by, so be diligent.

When your bank statement comes in each month, don't just toss it in the pile of junk mail. Open it and balance it to your check register as soon as possible. This will help you find any unauthorized transactions sooner. The sooner you contact the bank about unauthorized transactions, the sooner that transaction can be fixed. Most banks have a time limit. Once that time is up, the charge becomes yours, so you need to find it fast.

Be Creative With Your Pin

Not like this.
Not like this. | Source

Your Pin Number Could be in Danger

Because Pin numbers are only short four-digit numbers, they are easy to remember, and easy to steal. When you use your debit card at a machine in public, try to cover your hand when you enter the pin number. Change your pin number as often as possible and try to use numbers that won’t be associated to you (dates of birth are usually the ones people use and these can easily be identified by a simple search on the internet).

Thieves will often search out information and then try different numbers until one works. They are very patient and work for weeks to find the correct number because they are working with hundreds of accounts daily. Before long, they have drained your account while you thought you were well protected. If you use numbers that have nothing to do with birthdays, anniversaries, etc. they will have a harder time discovering your pin. And by changing it regularly, their process will have little success.

Is There Danger

When using your bank and credit cards, do you keep their faces and numbers protected?

See results

Thieves Watch You Use Your Card

When you take out your card to use it, keep the face of the card covered. Don’t allow the name, or any of the numbers to be seen by anyone else if at all possible. If you are using it at a restaurant and the waitress has to take the card away, be sure to note how long she has the card. If it is a long period of time, you should check your account over the next few days for unauthorized transactions which you should discuss not only with your bank, but with the restaurant as well.

When you hand your card to pay for your meal, you have the implied right of protection of that card and the account to which it is connected. You are the one in control, not the waitress or waiter. If you feel funny about handing your card to them, ask for the manager. You do have that right as well, especially if you have had problems there before.

Expiration Dates Are Easy

Twelve months, thirty days, and a few years ahead is all they need.
Twelve months, thirty days, and a few years ahead is all they need. | Source

How They Do It

Thieves are always prepared to memorize your account number. They can forget about the beginning numbers of your account because those numbers-usually the first six-identify the bank and are the same on all accounts from that bank. All a thief has to do is see the logo and they know the bank and half your number. Then they remember the last numbers on your card and they are golden. Often, they can guess the expiration date because the banks usually issue them every three years. This means that they can put the expiration date as the day you are using it and then just keep adding until they find the correct one. Since banks use month and year, this could be a very quick process. Scary, but oh so true.

How come I have to stay in and balance the bank statement?
How come I have to stay in and balance the bank statement? | Source

Your Statement is Important

I don't like to repeat myself, but this bears repeating and filling out just a bit more. Receipts and your statement are your best defense against theft. If you do not balance on a timely manner, you could lose more than just a few dollars. If you see a charge that you did not make, report it to your bank immediately. Often, if you tell them within thirty days of the charge, you will not be responsible for the charge unless it is identified as yours.

Make sure before you call. If you did make the charge and you dispute it, the bank may mark you as someone who is trying to get out of their charges. That could be bad for you in the future. However, mistakes can, and quite often are, made; when that happens, own up to it and accept the charge. This will impress the bank and perhaps help your reputation at the same time.

Your Wallet Can Give You Away

When we throw away our wallets, we are often throwing away our bank account numbers. How? When we use the same slot for our bank card all the time, the numbers get embedded into the material of the wallet. After awhile, the numbers can be read without the need of the card. A pencil lightly rubbed over a paper on the material will easily pick up the account numbers. We can prevent this by putting the card in a different slot each time, or using a sleeve (the bank can provide you one) that will cushion the numbers and prevent them from being embedded into the material of your wallet.

I protected my ATM/Debit card, so I can sleep again! *Sigh* "So Comfy"
I protected my ATM/Debit card, so I can sleep again! *Sigh* "So Comfy" | Source

Protect Your Card

  • Be aware of how and when you use the card. Be careful that no one else sees it.
  • Ensure that you keep and record all receipts.
  • Change your pin often.
  • Ask the bank to make your account a pin only account.
  • Check statements carefully.

That’s about it, right? I mean you can’t carry a security guard around in your pocket to keep it safe, can you? No, but you can use a few safety precautions yourself.

  • Always place it in a safe place after you use it (not your back pocket or slipped into the purse as this means it might be lost).
  • Always know where your card is and what you have used it for.
  • Never allow anyone else to use your card.
  • Remember that your card is connected directly to your bank account. It can be used to drain your account if you are not careful with it.

We all know how fast paced the days have become. Rush, rush, rush, meeting here, coffee, check out the new product, etc.; we all know how draining it is. We all know how hard it is to keep track of all those little charges like the two dollar coffee or the fifty cent newspaper. But would it be easier if some nobody standing behind you in line while you were distracted talking to a business partner about something in the office and the nobody got your numbers? Now they are spending hundreds while you are in your office signing invoices and pay vouchers. How safe do you feel about your ATM/Debit card now?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Cheryl Simonds


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