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January 3, 2012 > Would you give a thief direct access to your checking account?

Would you give a thief direct access to your checking account?

Submitted By Newark PD

No? Unfortunately, you may be doing just that by regularly using your debit card. Debit cards may look identical to credit cards, but there's one key difference. With credit cards, users who spot fraudulent charges on their bill can simply decline the charges and not pay the bill. On the other hand, debit cards draw money directly from your checking account, rather than from an intermediary such as a credit card company.

While debit card fraud is always a possibility, being careful where you use it can help keep your checking account balance out of the hands of criminals.

Protect Your PIN. You've heard it before, but as a friendly reminder, never carry your PIN on you. That includes storing your PIN in your mobile phone or writing it on a piece of scratch paper and storing it in your wallet. Similarly, protect your pin while you're at the ATM. Cover the keypad with your hand as you enter your pin.

Outdoor ATMs present a perfect opportunity for thieves to skim users' debit cards. Skimming is the practice of capturing a bank customer's card information by running it through a machine that reads the card's magnetic strip. Those machines are often placed over the real card slots at ATMs and other card terminals. You are better off using an ATM inside a retail outlet or other high-trafficked, well-lit place.

Gas stations are another danger zone for debit card use. Gas station payment terminals have many of the characteristics card fraudsters love. Thieves often use small cameras to capture footage of debit card users entering their PINs so they can have free access to your money. With the high potential for fraud in pay-at-the-pump debit transactions, it might make sense to use an alternative such as cash or credit cards the next time you fill up.

Debit cards are a convenient way to buy products online, especially for those who don't like to use credit cards. Unfortunately, the Web is one of the most dangerous places to make purchases. Online is the No. 1 place where consumers should not use their debit cards. Aside from the potential for hacking at many different points in a transaction, the fundamental problem with using debit cards online is it's impossible to know who is handling your information.

Any place where the card is out of hand can increase the chances of fraud. Restaurant servers use the standard practice of taking customers' debit cards out of sight giving the person the opportunity to copy your card information. Many restaurants rarely take the steps necessary to safeguard payment information. Overall, regardless of whether you use your debit card at a small restaurant or a big-box store, the possibility of fraud is always there.

If you are a victim of ATM fraud, immediately report the fraud to all of your banks and credit card companies.

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