What Is PIN-Less Debit Fraud?

Definition & Examples of PIN-Less Debit Fraud

Person using debit card to pay
•••

 Capuski / Getty Images 

PIN-less debit card fraud is fraudulent use of your debit card to make purchases without a PIN and without your permission.

What Is PIN-Less Debit Fraud?

You can swipe your debit card at many places without using a PIN for transactions under $50. This convenience opens new security issues and opportunities for fraud because there is no need for the cardholder to know the security PIN and no signature match to verify the card belongs to you.

How PIN-Less Debit Fraud Works

Since most of the time these transactions don’t require you to give up your card to the cashier, there isn’t even a signature match performed. This can lead to PIN-less debit card fraud or fraud that uses a debit card to make purchases without the PIN and without your permission. These transactions can add up to cause financial stress.

10 Ways to Protect Yourself Against PIN-Less Debit Fraud

Here are steps you can take to do as much as you can to protect yourself against PIN-less debit card fraud or act on it quickly if it does happen to you.

Watch Your Accounts Daily

The longer you let fraud linger, the harder it is to get a refund on any fraudulent transactions made with PIN-less debit card fraud (or any other kind of fraud).

If you report any suspicious transactions as soon as they occur—the quicker the better— then you can get a resolution quickly at most banking institutions and protect your assets.

If you report any suspicious transactions as soon as they occur—the quicker the better— then you can get a resolution quickly at most banking institutions and protect your assets. The Electronic Funds Transfer Act imposes a limit of 60 days after receipt of a statement showing fraudulent activity for no liability. But liability increases after just two days.

The downside is that in many cases you won't get the money back immediately. The bank will need to conduct an investigation and you could go for several days waiting for a new debit card.

Sign Up for Text/Email Alerts

This doesn’t substitute for checking your bank account online, but it can help. Many banks and credit unions offer text and email alerts to let you know when there is unusual activity in your account. It won’t catch a fraudulent purchase at the local chain drugstore if that’s where you normally shop, but it will flag a purchase in California if you normally live in Ohio.

You can set up mobile banking alerts to notify you of every single transaction that occurs, as they happen in real time, so you can immediately spot an unauthorized transaction made on your account.

Guard Your Cards Like Cash

You wouldn’t leave cash hanging out in the open. Don’t do that with your debit cards either. You should guard your debit cards just like you do with cash. Keep them secure and in your possession at all times.

Don't Lend Out Your Debit Cards

It can be tempting to give your kids or a trusted friend your debit cards to make a quick purchase. But don’t. Anyone can copy your card information and use it online to make a PIN-less debit purchase. It’s not worth letting your card information get out into the wild. Be sure to use a separate PIN for all of your cards.

Never Send Your Account Info Through Chat or Email

A customer service representative may ask via chat for you to verify certain pieces of information. As a rule, they'll never ask for your entire account number or Social Security number to verify information.

Your bank will never email you asking for your debit card numbers, but people engaged in phishing scams to get your account info and use it fraudulently will. Don’t give that info out over email,

Don’t Click Links in Banking Emails

Scammers are great at making fake emails and fake sites, a type of email phishing scam. Never click a link in an email from your bank. Always navigate to your bank's website by typing the address in your browser. That ensures you won’t end up giving your information to a fraudulent site.

Never Use Public Wifi Networks to Make Online Purchases

Scammers can skim public wifi networks and steal your card information to then make PIN-less debit purchases in their own names. Avoid this by using secure connections when purchasing online. Never use public WiFi networks for online banking either.

Check for Secure Websites

Anytime you make a purchase or visit your bank’s website, check for an https:// connection. The web address should read like this: https://yourbankinginstitution.com. That “s” at the end of the https means you have a secure connection with the institution you are doing business with.

Use a Strong Password for Online Banking

If people can get into your online banking account, they can get access to all kinds of banking information and order a new debit card. Don’t use easy-to-hack passwords such as 123456, password, or your loved one’s birthday. This invites trouble. Instead use a secure password with varied numbers, letters, and characters.

Don't Write Your PIN on Paper

On the topic of fraud, never record your PIN (or any other password) on paper. If you store it in your wallet with your debit card, that would give a thief easy access to your accounts if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Key Takeaways

  • PIN-less debit fraud is the use of a debit card without a PIN made by an unauthorized person.
  • Low-value transactions and online shopping can require no PIN.
  • Check your balance daily and set up alerts to catch fraud if it happens.
  • The faster you report it, the easier it is to resolve PIN-less fraud with your bank.
  • Never give out sensitive information by email or share your debit card with anyone.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer.gov. "Using Debit Cards." Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.

  2. Federal Trade Commission. "Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards." Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.

  3. Electronic Funds Transfer Act. "Consumer Liability for Unauthorized Transfers," Page 12. Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.