How to Reduce Risks when using Debit Cards

Debit cards are a great convenience when shopping in brick and mortar stores or online. But debit cards can offer great risks, especially when they are lost, stolen, left behind in ATMs, or the card number and other important information is captured and copied.

Because they are supposed to be protected by a personal identification number (PIN), debit cards are assumed to be theft proof. That is not true, since the cards also function as credit cards or the user only needs to have the number, expiration date, and the security code for online transactions.

Many shops will process a low dollar limit credit card transaction without requiring a signature or photo identification. This means that a stolen card can have illegal charges on it before the owner realizes that the card is missing. 

In this day and age, it is wise to find out about new ways to protect the debit card. has some tips that will help, and there are more.

Communicate with the bank:

Maintain current phone and other contact information so the bank can call and question suspicious charges.

Copy the bank contact information on the back of the card. Keep it in a separate location in case a purse or wallet is stolen.

Sign up for email banking alerts that will tell if low balances or other unusual activity is going on.

Do regular and frequent balance checks to catch any suspicious activity.

Notify the bank as soon as it is clear that a card is missing. The bank sharply reduces the coverage if days go by before the loss is reported. It is better to wait for a new card than to take a chance that the current card is somewhere safe.

In stores where the PIN and card are used:

Cover the keypad when entering the PIN. Store surveillance cameras can pick up enough detail for a person to grab the PIN and the other card information. 

When standing in line or in a crowd, hide the card. This will prevent others from getting the number, name, and the three digit security code on the back. Those three bits of information will allow a person to shop online or over the phone. 

If frequent dining out, gas purchases, and purchases at small shops is a habit, use cash or a rechargeable debit card instead of the principal bank cards. There have been too many cases of restaurant, gas station, and store personnel stealing card information. No one knows when or where that kind of identity theft could happen again. 

Avoid isolated ATMs or “off brand” ATMs like the plague. Pay special attention to malfunctioning or poorly maintained ATMs. These may be set up to take card information and PIN without really being operational. Avoid ATM’s and card readers in liquor stores, gas stations and other small operations.

Protect the card data:

Use an RFID protective case for any cards and badges with magnetic strips. There are thieves who carry “skimmer” or RFID readers that can read and disable magnetic strips. These devices can read the data right through cloth and leather purses and wallets. As an added note, take off the wearable work badge and put it in a protective case after leaving the work place.

Print out a copy of each and every screen where a bank card was used online. Avoid doing transactions over the phone at all costs because there is no immediate paper receipt or other proof of what was said or done.

Use a temporary or rechargeable card for phone and online transactions. This is the best way to isolate and protect the primary bank card.

For personal safety:

Know where your bank has an ATM inside of or close to a local supermarket. These well occupied and well lit places are the safest places to get cash after dark and when isolated banks are closed. 

Never keep a regular schedule when visiting your neighborhood bank ATM.

If traveling alone, use the credit and debit card in safe places! This works in conjunction with letting people know where you are and will be at each step of the journey. Important information about missing and lost persons is gained from knowing the expected location and tracking their ATM and credit card use.

In summary, these are changing times. Thieves are resourceful and they can adapt to any security technology. It is best to take an occasional look at debit and credit card habits and to get rid of habits that put the user at risk for data theft.