How Can Crooks Use My Debit Card Number Without Having the Card?

by Jane Meggitt
To avoid fraud, don't use your debit card to pay for online purchases.

Your debit card may be safely tucked in your wallet, but someone has just used it to take money out of your bank account. How did that happen? Sophisticated criminals use various methods to obtain your debit card information and steal your money. There are ways to help foil crooks, though doing so means not using your debit card in certain circumstances.

The PIN Number

Without your personal identification number, or PIN, debit card transactions shouldn't receive approval. That number is supposed to safeguard access to our account, but thieves have developed a variety of ways to discover those individual digits. Criminals can obtain the PIN when hacking into a merchant's site. Once they get your information, they can create phony cards and use them at ATMs. Clearing out a bank account is much easier for them than attempting to make purchases, as they then have to sell these items to a "fence," or an individual who knowingly purchases stolen goods for resale.

Phishing for Information

Thieves devise ingenious ways to steal information from debit card holders. Online, they might try phishing you via email, posing as your bank or another reputable agency and requesting your card information and PIN number. Always contact your bank directly -- not by replying to a possibly phony email -- to verify such communications.

Dishonest Employees

Crooks working in legitimate stores might set up false PIN pads that collect your information, but never send it to your bank. The employee commits fraud by putting cash in the register -- so that the store doesn't detect issues with its finances -- then later creates a fake card and robs your account. Another scam involves a business swiping your card more than once for a purchase. The first swipe sends the information to your bank. The second, illegitimate swipe allows the criminal employee to obtain and keep your information, which can eventually be made into a card.

Protect Yourself

Avoid using your debit card to make online purchases. It might be inconvenient, but it sure beats having your money stolen. Also avoid using your debit card to pay bar and restaurant checks because the server physically takes your card away to complete the transaction. Unscrupulous restaurant employees could steal your information, then hand the card back to you. Never reveal your PIN number to anyone, even trusted friends and relatives. Check your bank accounts online frequently -- even on a daily basis. That way, you can notify your bank immediately if there's a suspicious transaction. Save all transaction receipts, then compare them with your bank statements. A receipt that never appears on the statement means you could be the victim of an unscrupulous employee.

About the Author

Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.

Photo Credits

  • Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images