How to Protect Your Debit Card From Fraud

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A debit card gives you the convenience of paying in cash without having to carry wads of it around. Unfortunately, it also opens you up to debit card fraud. FICO reports that in 2016 the number of compromised debit cards increased by 70%, while the number of compromised ATMs and merchant terminals increased by 30%. That's why it's important for you to know how to protect your debit card.

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Here are some of the risks to your debit account, along with some tips on avoiding them.

Card skimmers

A card skimmer is a device thieves attach to a card reader to steal cards' information and either store it or send it to the thief. While skimmers were once large, clunky devices that were relatively easy to spot, today's skimmers are often tiny devices hidden inside the card reader itself. Skimmers are best known for appearing in ATMs, but gas pumps are another popular target. Because pumps have been given a three-year extension to install chip card readers (which are far more secure than the old magnetic stripe readers), they'll be at risk of skimming at least until 2020.

When using your card at an ATM or gas pump, check first for any strange protrusions or attachments to the card reader. Some gas pumps have a security seal sticker that will be broken if someone has accessed the inside of the card reader; never use your card at such a pump. And if your card fails to emerge from an ATM or other card reader, call your bank immediately and report it, because some skimmers will grab a card and keep it for the thief to later retrieve.

There's also a new app for Android phones called Skimmer Scanner, which can detect skimmers based on the Bluetooth component that many of these devices use. Using this app to check out card readers before you insert your card can protect you from some skimmers, though it's not a sure thing.

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Some skimmers are nearly impossible to detect, so for good measure, you should always use the pump nearest to the attendant. Thieves tend to avoid those machines for fear of getting caught. And if you do find a skimmer, don't try to remove it yourself; report it to the bank (for ATMs) or gas station attendant (for pumps).

Other ways to protect your card

Card skimmers aren't the only way that fraudsters can get your debit card information. Any time you use your card, there's a risk that the card number will be stolen and sold. That's why it's important to check your statement regularly and act at once if you see any bogus transactions. If your card is lost and stolen, report the loss to your bank immediately. Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), you can't be held responsible for any transactions that occur after you've reported a lost or stolen card to the bank.

Reporting a fraudulent transaction within two business days of noticing the transaction limits your maximum loss to $50 under the EFTA. If you wait more than two business days but less than 60 days after having received the statement containing the fraud, your maximum loss is limited to $500. And if you wait more than 60 days after having received the relevant bank statement, you lose all protection from the EFTA. Debit cards with Visa or MasterCard logos may have additional built-in fraud protections; check with your bank to find out what these may be.

Prevention is always better than a cure, so take steps to keep your card safe. Shred any documents with your card number or other personal information, rather than just dumping them in a recycling bin; don't share your card numbers online except on trusted websites (ones whose URL addresses begin with "https," which indicates a greater degree of security than "http"), and never email such information; and don't carry your PIN with you or write it down on the card itself. These precautions will more than pay for themselves if they help you to prevent even one fraudulent transaction.

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