5 Tips for Guarding Against Debit Card Fraud

There’s been an unnerving uptick in credit and debit card fraud since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020, but you can take some simple steps to keep hackers, skimmers and identity thieves at bay.

Most of us use debit cards on a daily basis and love the convenience they offer. Completing an electronic transaction by swiping, inserting or tapping your card in person or entering the number online is second nature. In 2018, the number of debit cards in the United States was expected to hit 5.36 million, with purchases on those cards totaling $3.32 billion. That’s a potential goldmine for criminals bent on accessing accounts through all sorts of illegal schemes. 

Between April 2019 and April 2020, the dollar volume of fraudulent credit and debit card transactions saw a staggering 35% spike. With fewer people venturing out, electronic transactions are on the rise and that means even more data for the taking. Fraudsters are using a range of tactics to obtain vital debit card information and exploiting card holders who aren’t taking basic precautions to protect themselves.

Sadly, nothing is foolproof, and everyone who uses a debit card is at risk. A 2019 survey of 1,000 Americans found that more than a third had been victims of credit card fraud, with baby boomers hit the hardest. However, it is possible to turn the odds in your favor. By understanding the types of scams and following our tips for how to prevent debit card fraud, you can make yourself less vulnerable.

What scams do criminals use to steal debit card information?

You may be familiar with the most common debit card dangers, but enterprising criminals never stop looking for new ways to rip people off. In 2018, evidence surfaced that scammers were intercepting large shipments of debit cards and replacing the EMV chips designed to make the cards more secure. 

In most cases, the goal is to steal your 16-digit card number and the underlying personal details needed to access your account or make purchases. Here’s a closer look at the different ways your debit card can fall into the wrong hands. 

  • Skimming – A little more than a decade ago, authorities saw a noticeable rise in this sneaky crime. Around that time, thieves started using sophisticated devices implanted in ATMs and gas-pump card readers to steal debit card details. Make sure the slot where you insert your card doesn’t appear loose, crooked or damaged. If anything looks amiss, pay with a credit card or cash.
  • Phishing – These scams—often in the form of emails or texts—pretend to come from official sources about urgent matters. Those who take the bait end up handing over their confidential account information to cyber swindlers. Never click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails. Typos, odd email addresses and requests for information the sender would already have are red flags you’re probably being phished.
  • Identity theft – Identity theft is a constant threat in today’s increasingly electronic world. If your debit card number, along with other personally identifiable information, is on file with an insurance company, health system or retailer, there’s a chance it could be exposed in a records breach. Don’t save your card number for online accounts and ask companies what they do to protect your personal information.
  • Websites infected with malware – Online purchases are a way of life for most of us these days. Every time you enter your card number on an e-commerce website, there’s a chance hackers are waiting in the wings. It’s difficult to tell if a site is infected with malware, but this checklist will help you spot more subtle clues.  

Make yourself a hard target with these debit card fraud prevention tips. 

1. Only use trusted ATMs. 

Banks take ATM security very seriously. Whenever you can, be sure to use a trusted bank ATM. Skimmers are becoming more advanced, and devices known as “shimmers” can even steal data from debit cards with EMV chips. If a bank ATM isn’t an option and you need cash, find an indoor machine in a well-lit area with plenty of foot traffic.   

2. Guard your data. 

This one may fall in the obvious file, but you can never be too careful when it comes to your debit card information. While point-of-sale scams like skimmers are a real threat, most credit and debit card fraud falls into the “card-not-present” category. CNP fraud is skyrocketing, with one research firm forecasting $130 billion in global losses between 2018 and 2023. So cover the keyboard when entering your debit card PIN. Don’t save your card for future purchases on websites. Be extremely selective about when you use your debit card online and for what. You can also ask your bank about other debit card risks and their account security recommendations.

3. Set up text alerts through your bank.

One of the best ways to keep an eye on debit card purchases is to set up bank alerts. Many banks allow you to customize alerts based on the amount debited or time of day transactions occur (cybercriminals like to do their dirty work while you’re sleeping). With real-time texts, you’ll know immediately when someone’s used your debit card for unauthorized purchases. Just remember, crooks are always one step ahead.  

4. Use a secure network, firewall and anti-malware software.

Think of your home computer as a digital fortress. You need the equivalent of a moat, towering walls and a barred gate to keep invaders out. Be sure you have a secure, encrypted WiFi network, along with a firewall, to deter hackers. Anti-malware software offers another layer of protection. Home is where the heart is, and it’s also where you should make online purchases. Never use your debit card on a public WiFi network.

5. Set up a separate checking account for bills and routine purchases.

If you haven’t had your debit card hacked, good for you. That said, you’re in the minority. Most security experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when, you’ll join the ranks of debit card fraud victims. With that in mind, consider opening a separate checking account with just enough money to cover bills and routine purchases. That way, if your debit card is stolen, cybercriminals won’t have access to all of your funds. 

Adopting these habits could be just enough to protect your debit card from being hacked or stolen. And that means avoiding a litany of headaches that includes canceling your card, recovering funds and…maybe worst of all…memorizing the number on your newly issued debit card!