Your debit card is connected to your checking account, which holds the money you use for everyday spending. That means you have to be even more careful about where you swipe your debit card since debit card fraud puts your hard-earned cash at risk.
In many cases, credit cards are a safer choice. Most credit cards come with zero fraud liability, which means you won't be held liable for unauthorized charges to your account as long as you report the charges within a certain timeframe. Debit cards don't come with the same protection; if you wait too long to report the fraud, you could be on the hook for everything stolen from your account. You can protect yourself from debit card fraud by knowing the risky places to swipe your debit card.
One of credit card thieves' favorite way to steal debit card information is through card skimming. This happens when you swipe your credit card through a skimming device in an otherwise legitimate transaction. The skimmer captures your debit card information, which the thief retrieves once they come back for the skimmer.
Skimming devices are commonly placed on ATMs that aren't attached to a bank. So watch out for ATMs that are in gas stations, hotel lobbies, or anywhere outdoors. These machines aren't owned by banks and aren't always well-monitored, giving thieves greater opportunity to place and retrieve a skimming device.
Thieves can also pose as legitimate street vendors swiping your debit card through mobile credit card terminals. However, in some cases, thieves are actually swiping your debit card through a skimming device and stealing your information. Unless you're well aware of various mobile card-processing devices, you can't be entirely sure whether the merchant is actually processing a payment or stealing your information. Be careful when you're making purchases at events, outdoor markets, and other places where small businesses process card payments remotely.
Gas stations are another place skimmers are more likely to be found, since the card reader at gas pumps aren't always well-monitored. Before you swipe your debit card at a gas station pump, give the credit card terminal a slight tug. If it jiggles or doesn't feel secure, don't swipe your debit card. Use your credit card instead (because it has much better fraud protection), pay inside, or go to another gas station. It may be inconvenient, but it's worth it to avoid dealing with the fallout of debit card fraud.
Debit card thieves have also been known to place skimming devices over the card readers in the self-checkout lanes at major retailers. Thieves may work as a team, with one person covering the camera while another places the skimmer over the card reader. Skimming technology has gotten more sophisticated over the years. Thieves can retrieve the stolen information remotely, using Bluetooth technology. Once they have your debit card information, they can use it to create clone debit cards or sell it on the dark web to thieves who might use your information to make fraudulent purchases.
The risky part of using your debit card at a restaurant is that you aren't the one who swipes your debit card. Instead, you give your card to a waiter, who disappears with it, then returns minutes later with a receipt for you to sign. Thieves often run large criminal rings, recruiting waiters to steal customer debit card in exchange for a few bucks. Once your debit card leaves your sight, you have no control over what's done with it.
Detecting Debit Card Fraud
The worst part about having your debit card information stolen is that you don't know until unauthorized purchases show up on your account. With your debit card information, thieves steal your hard-earned money and you have to work with the bank to get it back.
Check your bank account often, at a minimum of once a week, so you can spot any suspicious activity quickly and report it to your bank immediately. It can cancel your current debit card and issue a new card with a new number or new security code, or both. Reporting fraudulent purchases early minimizes your liability for purchases made on your account. You're more likely to get most or all your stolen funds returned to you by reporting early.
Because thieves are always developing clever ways to steal information, it's hard to protect yourself completely. Fortunately, you can minimize your losses by only keeping a small amount of money in your checking account and turning off overdraft protection.