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Debit Card Fraud Prevention

Updated on March 11, 2012

Debit cards are so convenient. They are easy to carry and faster than writing a check. Many retail establishments allow you to get extra cash back when handling your transaction, saving you a trip to the bank. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, fraud is a very real threat for the 2/3 of Americans who are debit card holders, with losses in the millions of dollars per year. Taking the time to learn some precautions now could save you from being a victim of theft in the future.

Be very careful about the ATMs you use, preferably sticking with those which are located at actual banks. Those in public places, such as convenience stores or airports, are more susceptible to the thieves who place skimming devices on them in order to gather your private information. Outdoor ATMs in remote locations are probably the worst, allowing even easier access, as well as the opportunity to position cameras to capture pin numbers.

Skimming typically involves the use of hidden cameras (top) to record customers’ PINs and phony keypads (right) placed over real keypads to record keystrokes.
Skimming typically involves the use of hidden cameras (top) to record customers’ PINs and phony keypads (right) placed over real keypads to record keystrokes.

When paying for goods and services, there are some places where you may want to think twice about using your debit card. Gas stations, similar to those outdoor ATMs, may not be monitored well enough to feel safe paying at the pump. When dining out, keep in mind that you give your card to the server to pay, and they go away with it, out of your sight. When traveling, you are especially vulnerable, since it will take longer for charges to appear on your statement, making them easier to miss.

Finally, the most dangerous place to use your debit card is when shopping online. There are so many points at which hacking can occur that it is just not recommended. And while we are on the subject of shopping online, keep in mind that a person only needs the name and card number to spend your money to shop for themselves online.

We’ve been focusing on debit cards, but what about credit cards? Although both are subject to fraud, you are more protected when using your credit card. Once you spot fraudulent activity, you can contact the credit card company and decline to pay the charges. On the other hand, a debit card theft could wipe out an entire bank account before you are even aware.

Despite their convenience, there are clearly times when using your debit card may not be the best choice. On the bright side, using actual cash instead of your debit card may keep you from spending more than you should.

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