December 22, 2023

Protecting Your Finances from Debit Card Fraud

Imagine paying for a meal at your favorite restaurant only for the server to explain your debit card was declined. Feeling embarrassed, you open your banking app and find that money has suspiciously disappeared from your account, and there are several unknown charges that you don’t recognize.

It happened: You were hit by debit card fraud.

With scams, fraud, and other illicit events, people assume the victims are to blame. Maybe they clicked on a shady URL or shared their account information with the wrong person. It’s an unfortunate and common misconception.

In reality, it can happen to anyone. Unlike phishing or social engineering attacks, many forms of fraud and scams don’t require the participation of the target.

A perfect example of this is debit card fraud, which can also happen to credit card owners. There are some differences between debit and credit card fraud, but today we’re going to focus on debit card fraud.

It’s important to understand how debit card fraud happens and how you can protect yourself from it. These tips can help you guard your hard-earned money, stay informed, and make sure everything you do online plays out safely.

What is debit card fraud, exactly?

Debit card fraud is when an unauthorized person gains access to your card and its details, including the security code on the back of the card. Thieves often use the information to make unauthorized purchases or cash withdrawals, leaving you to foot the bill.

Debit card fraud is a serious crime involving identity theft and the misuse of your funds. In recent years, thieves have used stolen debit card information to purchase fuel, gift cards, and other items.

These concerns may leave you questioning whether online banking is safe. Should you avoid online shopping altogether? Fortunately, you can minimize your risk by taking a few simple precautions.

For starters, consider overdraft protection and explore the fees and costs associated with your debit and online banking accounts. Some banks charge a returned item fee or NSF fee if you try to buy something while your account is overdrawn. If a fraudster empties out your account and you don’t notice, these fees can add insult to injury.

How can someone use my debit card without taking it?

The strange thing about debit card fraud is that thieves can use your card even though they don't physically have it.

So, how do they get your card details? There are a few ways.

Thieves can steal the information by snapping photos of your card or writing down the details. Anyone you come into contact with could do this at any time.

Another method is called skimming. Thieves install an easily concealable device, called a skimmer, over a card port — usually on an ATM, gas pump, or point-of-sale payment device.

When you insert your card, the device collects the digital information and sends it to a remote system. Skimmers can collect your card number, security code, PIN, address, and other personal details connected to your account.

Skimming doesn’t give thieves enough information to conduct a huge electronic fund transfer, but they can use the details they've stolen to make fraudulent purchases, even from distant locations, like another state or country.

Finally, there’s hacking. Any debit card connected to an online account, whether through banking, a payment app, or another service, is at risk. Your card may be compromised by scammers who access accounts through hacks and other engineering methods.

Hackers may sell what they've gathered on the digital black market, including your name, address, card number, security code, and even financial history. Using the appropriate debit card security measures can prevent this, like not saving your card info when checking out online.

How to detect and report debit card fraud

Thieves hope you won't notice suspicious activity right away — or at all. That’s why the best debit card fraud protection is being vigilant and having a keen eye.

Actively monitor your accounts so you can react as fast as possible. Review your online account details, bank statements, purchases, and withdrawals. You can use your mobile banking apps to check this information and dispute or raise suspicions about any unauthorized transactions.

Your debit or credit card issuer may also send you notifications about purchases to help you identify fraudulent transactions. Some credit and debit card providers, like Discover, offer this option for free.

You can also use credit monitoring tools to make sure no new lines of credit appear under your name and to review the lines of credit you currently have open.

Dispute unauthorized purchases and transactions

Reporting debit card fraud is as simple as getting in contact with your card issuer or bank to dispute a suspicious or unauthorized transaction. They will investigate, and if they confirm that a scam, fraud, or theft has occurred, they may reverse the funds, cancel your debit card, and issue a new one immediately to stop any further unauthorized transactions.

Don’t be afraid to do this and use it as often as you need to dispute fraudulent transactions immediately.

Potential signs of debit card fraud

Not all of these signs directly indicate credit card or debit card fraud is taking place, but you’ll want to look deeper if you encounter several of them at once:

1. Large purchases: Thieves and fraudsters act fast to maximize the amount they can steal. Watch your statements and checking accounts for large purchases you didn't make or charges from unusual sources.

2. Duplicates: Watch for the same items being purchased multiple times or across several transactions.

3. Many rapid transactions: Watch for many purchases — small or large — made rapidly in succession.

4. International, rush, or overnight shipping charges: Thieves tend to use speedy and long-distance shipping options because they’re often located far away.

5. New addresses: Online portals and apps log a user's current location via an IP address, especially for transactions. If you notice an address that doesn’t match yours, someone else may have access to your account.

6. Unrecognized emails: If you notice online purchases attached to a strange email address, it’s cause for concern.

Be your own hero: How to prevent debit card fraud

It’s important to know what to do if you’re the victim of debit card fraud. But what about avoiding it in the first place? Here are some simple ways to protect your money:

1. Review your statements

Look over purchases, transfers, withdrawals, and review your credit and debit card statements every month. Yes, it may seem like a lot of work, but it's crucial to catch scams and fraudulent charges fast.

2. Conduct security checks when shopping online

Before entering debit card details online, follow a series of security checks.

  1. Never save your debit card details online.

  2. Always check the URL of the site you’re visiting to make sure it’s legit.

  3. Never share your information on a site that begins with “http” instead of “https.” The “s” indicates a secure and encrypted connection.

  4. Use an alternative payment method, like PayPal, whenever possible.

These steps ensure your card info isn’t taken from an insecure site.

3. Be careful where you use your debit card

Avoid using your debit card in new places, including stores, gas stations, and roadside venues. It’s smart to carry a little cash when going somewhere you've never been.

4. Always keep track of your physical cards

Make sure your debit card remains on or near you at all times. Never leave it unsupervised, especially in public areas.

5. Store your sensitive data carefully

You shouldn't write down your debit card numbers, security code, or PIN, as there's a chance this information may fall into the wrong hands. If you must, secure it properly. It shouldn't be accessible to others — even friends and family.

Catch fraud in your finances with EarnIn

Monitoring your credit is an important way to protect yourself against fraud. EarnIn’s free Credit Monitoring tool can help you identify fraudulent activities. Not only does this keep you informed — it also helps you manage potential risks to your finances.

And that’s just one of the powerful tools the EarnIn app offers to give you a new set of options with your money. Like our Cash Out tool, which lets you access your pay as you work — up to $100 a day and up to $750 every pay period — so you have what you need when you need it.

Download the EarnIn app today and catch fraud early with money at the speed of you.

Please note, the material collected in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as or construed as advice regarding any specific circumstances. Nor is it an endorsement of any organization or services.

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