How to protect your debit card from thieves

debit card swipe - protect yourself from debit card theftThe issue of debit card security is in the news again as word comes that some Aldi supermarket card readers were tampered with, making it possible for thieves to get both the card numbers as well as customers' PINs. It's a scary prospect, since many of us use our debit cards for everyday purchases like groceries and gas. Here's what you need to know:

According to the Federal Reserve's Regulation E, if your card itself is stolen, report the theft to your bank within two business days to keep your liability to $50. If you wait longer than two days, that liability zooms up to $500 until 60 days after the theft. If you still don't report your card stolen, you're responsible for all the charges on it.

But what if someone skims your account number and your PIN without your knowledge? Well, if you have access to online or mobile banking, it's a good idea to keep tabs on your account activity regularly anyway. The more often you check in, the more likely you are to notice fraudulent charges. If you receive your statement in the mail, be sure to read it carefully.

Regulation E gives you a 60-day window to report fraudulent charges, but many bank card scammers have gotten smart. What some will do is run a very tiny transaction, sometimes for just a few pennies, to see if the number still works. Then they'll hold onto it for a bit before going on their shopping spree. In other words, if you just look at the total balance and not at the list of transactions, you could easily miss a thief's "test swipe."

Ruth Susswein, deputy director of national priorities for watchdog group Consumer Action, says being aware of your surroundings when using your card goes a long way to protecting you. "If the machine they're using looks funny or looks different than it usually looks, go to another one," she advises. "That may be a sign that it has been tampered with." If your card gets stuck in the machine, report it immediately to your bank; this could be another indication. In addition, if there's anyone behind you, Susswein says to physically cover the keypad with your hand when you enter your PIN.

"It's always good for people to have their account numbers and customer service number for their accounts somewhere stored at home so if there is a problem you know who to call quickly," she advises. As with so many things in life, speed and self-awareness are key when it comes to protecting yourself against villains.
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