Your debit card may be safely tucked in your wallet, but someone could have just used it to take money out of your bank account. How might 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.
There are several ways a crook could get a hold of your debit card number without actually having your card in their hands. They may have placed a skimmer on a gas pump or they may have phished you via email.
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.
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.
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.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Sapling, Zack's, Financial Advisor, nj.com, LegalZoom and The Nest.