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Many consumers use a debit card for online purchases to avoid accumulating credit card debt, but, is it safe to use a debit card online?

Payments with a debit card are taken instantly from your checking account and shopping online comes with the added risk that your information may be stolen. Using a debit card opens up the possibility that the thief will gain access to the funds in your checking account.

Protections are in place if a debit card has been lost or stolen and used fraudulently, but only if you notify your banking institution. When considering if it is safe to use a debit card online or for in-person purchases, follow these eight rules to protect your transactions.

Key Takeaways

  • Check your bank statements regularly and report any suspected fraudulent activity to the bank immediately.
  • Only utilize ATMs associated with a bank; stay away from potential “skimming” locations such as gas stations and deli kiosks.
  • Report a lost or stolen debit card immediately to your bank and cancel the missing card.
  • Change your identification number (PIN) and password every few months. 

1. Check Your Bank Statements Often

As time is of the essence to receive full fraud protection from your bank, make it a habit to review your bank account online at least once a week or even daily.

2. Protect Your PIN Number

Don’t give your personal identification number (PIN) to anyone who asks, and don’t keep it written down anywhere in your purse or wallet. Don’t use your PIN at the gas pump. Instead, use your card in the credit purchase function to avoid someone seeing it. In fact, using your debit card in credit card mode may offer you extra liability protection, depending on your bank.

3. Consider Using a Credit Card Online

Some consumers choose to use only credit cards online since a fraudulent credit card transaction takes more time for your bank to process and can become an item of dispute rather than an instant removal of cash from your checking account. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recommends checking for a security symbol, such as an unbroken key or a padlock, on each website to ensure encryption. While a credit card may create debt, it doesn’t deplete the cash in your checking account and if your credit card is used fraudulently, you may be protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

4. Only Use ATMs at a Bank

Automated teller machines (ATMs) located in convenience stores, subway stations, airports, and other places have a greater risk of having a “skimming” device attached by a thief, which could intercept and store your debit card data. This sometimes happens at banks, too, but it is easier to do in a place without surveillance cameras.

5. Avoid Public Wireless Access for Financial Transactions

Make sure you are using a password-protected wireless signal to check your bank account balance, pay bills, and shop, so that hackers have less chance to capture your password and account information.

6. Report Problems Immediately

While you would certainly report it right away if your wallet were stolen and your credit and debit cards were missing, you should also report any unauthorized transactions immediately.

7. Consider Filing a Police Report

If your debit card is stolen and used, you may want to contact the police and keep a copy of the police report, so that you have extra support when you want your bank to reimburse the charges. 

8. Create Your Own Security Profile

Along with a strong password, security questions and a mobile phone backup provide extra security for your debit card. As long as you remember the answers, you can make up anything you want for your security questions.

Experts advise debit card holders not to make a financial transaction on an e-commerce site that doesn’t have the “s” following HTTP, as in HTTP://. This symbol is an indication of a higher level of security.

Unauthorized Charges on Your Debit Card

According to the National Consumer Law Center, if a consumer’s debit card has not been lost or stolen but there are unauthorized charges on the account, the consumer will be protected if they report those charges within 60 days of when the statement was sent.

When a physical card goes missing or is stolen, consumers have just two business days to notify the card issuer after learning about the loss. Those who do so will limit their losses to $50. Otherwise, they could lose up to $500. If they take months to notify the bank, they may not recoup any money.

Many banks have improved their debit card protections for their customers and will go beyond the above rules and not make consumers responsible for any charges deemed fraudulent. This is especially true if consumers report unauthorized transactions as soon as possible.

The Bottom Line

While you may find constantly using a debit card to be a great convenience, it won’t be so convenient if someone manages to drain your checking account. A little vigilance and some new habits can go a long way toward preventing a damaging debit card experience.

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