Having your debit card number stolen can be devastating. When your credit card gets compromised, you might not be able to charge and you may lose access to the account for a while. Ultimately, though, it's not your money at stake -- the credit card issuer is on the hook. When your debit card is compromised crooks can clean out your account and it could take days or weeks to get your money back.
Storing your debit card information in large databases on their servers is an everyday practice at many stores and online retailers. These technologies make it easier for you to shop with them, since they save you from having to re-enter your debit card information and can provide you with discounts. However, if a crook steals the database he gets access to your debit card and maybe even your name and billing address, which makes it easier for him to rip you off.
Crooks can attach small digital readers to gas pumps that let you swipe your card to pay without going into the store. These skimming devices read the data from your card's magnetic stripe, just like a regular card reader. The crook can then download the data and make a copy of your debit card he can use anywhere he can swipe it. It can be hard to spot a skimming device because criminals design them to look like they're part of the actual card reader.
ATM skimmers go their gas-pump brethren one further. While they also use a skimming device to capture your card data, they can capture you entering your PIN code. This lets them create a copy of your debit card that they can take to another ATM and take cash directly from your account. Like a pump skimmer, the ATM version is designed to look like it's part of the machine.
Reel 'Em In
Phishing is the practice of trying to fool you into giving out your debit card information online. For instance, a phishing email will look like it's from your bank and may even have its insignia. It will direct you to a website that looks like your bank's. However, it's actually run by a criminal ring that will capture the information you enter -- like your debit card number -- and possibly use it for their own purposes.
Whenever you give someone your debit card for a transaction you're at risk of having it stolen. Pickpockets and purse snatchers don't just get your card number -- they get your card. Dishonest waiters can also steal your debit card number. There's no real way to be sure of what they're doing with your card when you pay your bill, so keep your card in sight if possible and secure it when you're done using it.
- Bankrate: Five Ways Thieves Steal Credit Card Data
- CBS News: How Scammers Can Steal Your Credit Card Information at the Gas Pump
- Bankrate: Four Tips to Protect You From ATM Thieves
- Computer Emergency Readiness Team: Report Phishing Sites
- The New York Times: 28 Indicted in Theft of Steakhouse Patrons’ Credit Card Data
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.