Debit cards – which require a personal identification number (PIN) and deduct money straight from your checking account – offer convenience without the debt-related downsides of credit cards. That convenience can be a double-edged sword, though, because debit cards are tied to your checking account, which most people think of as their everyday spending cash.
If someone uses your credit card illegally, you won’t take a financial hit while you’re getting the situation resolved, and most major card companies have a zero-liability policy on fraudulent transactions. Financial institutions are offering more protection for debit cards, but it’s far less stressful to protect yourself from fraud in the first place.
Follow these tips to keep your debit card use under wraps.
Protect your PIN.
The first and most important rule to follow is to always protect your PIN. Don’t share it with anyone. Memorize it instead of writing it down somewhere. Never give it out over the phone, and always cover keypads with your hand when entering the code.
Whenever possible, use only ATMs associated with your card issuer, and do it during regular business hours. Don’t use an ATM if other people are milling around.
Choose ATMs wisely.
Stay away from ATMs that seem to be in disrepair. Be wary of card machines at convenience stores and gas pumps as well. It’s easier to set up “skimmer” devices on them to steal your information when you swipe or insert your card. To spot skimmers, look for different-colored materials on the façade of the ATM, partially obscured lights, misaligned on-screen graphics, protruding parts on the card reader and sluggish keypads.
Keep balances lower.
Think twice about keeping a large balance in checking or savings accounts that can be accessed via ATM. Check your account charges and balances regularly, and sign up for daily bank alerts if offered. Use debit card controls on your financial institution’s mobile banking app. Many users are now able to activate and deactivate their debit cards as many times as they wish. Compare monthly statements with your receipts.
Write down contact numbers for your checking account holder and credit card companies and keep them separate from your cards. Alert your bank or credit union immediately if your card is lost or stolen, and let them know if you plan on traveling out of state, to prevent potential blocks on your card. Always have other forms of payment on hand when you travel in case this happens.
Like cash and credit cards, debit cards deserve a place in your wallet. They can be a great way to track your spending and keep debt from getting out of control. Just remember that you need to use extra caution to keep your funds safe.