How to Prevent a Debit Card Hack
Thursday, November 11th, 2021
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How can you prevent a debit card hack?

Debit card data theft has surged lately, and it’s more sophisticated than ever. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2020 Data Book, debit cards were the second most common payment method reported for fraud. At 2,505 reports, that’s a 20% increase compared to the previous year. And, based on said reports, debit card-related fraud cost a total loss of $117 million.

You may feel like your own cards are safe, so there’s nothing to worry about. But according to Markus Bergthaler, the director of programs and marketing of the Merchant Risk Council, around 80% of credit cards in consumer wallets are compromised – your debit card is no different. So, with that in mind, it might be worth it to find ways to protect your card and finances from potential danger.

How is my debit card at risk?

One of the first steps to prevent a debit card hack is knowing how your card is at risk. Crooks can attach skimmers to ATMs or point-of-purchase devices in seconds.These counterfeit card readers instantly record banking data ingrained on a debit card’s magnetic stripe. You probably have one of the new EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) chip cards, but if you happen to insert or slide your card through an older ATM that cannot accept the newer cards, your data could still be at risk.

Magnetic-stripe cards come with more vulnerabilities than their chip counterparts. The improved protection of the chip comes from its more advanced encryption technology. They’re also harder to clone. However, once again, there may come a time you need to use the magnetic stripe on your EMV chip card. Thus, exposing yourself to skimmers.

Not only that. While EMV chip cards are safer, skimmers are clever. There is already evidence of chip skimmers surfacing. Called “shimmers,” these paper-thin devices sit inside the chip reader. There, they read the data from your EMV chip and save the payment information. Because of this, shims can be hard to detect, unlike the bulky external skimmers. On top of that, both types of credit cards still face CNP fraud, or card-not-present sales, when a scammer uses the information to buy something over the phone or online. 

Tip #1: Check ATMs

What can you do to protect yourself against debit card data theft? First, keep in mind that most skimmers are affixed to non-bank ATMs. ATMs at gas station islands and convenience stores are favorites for crooks, as they may be located out of sight of clerks and security cameras. Avoid using your debit card at such places. ATMs inside a bank or a business with plenty of foot traffic (like a mall or grocery store) are less likely to be hacked.

Check the ATM itself for irregularities. If there are multiple ATMs in front of you, be careful if one card slot flashes its acceptance light and an adjacent one does not (notify the bank or the business hosting the ATMs). Look for misaligned graphics or colors or evidence of prying or looseness. Cover the keypad as you enter your PIN, and beware of people trying to glean your PIN in the old-school way, simply by looking over your shoulder.

Tip #2: Try NFC Payments

Try an NFC payment if the merchant allows it.NFC stands for near-field communications. Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay all use NFC services, which encrypt the confidential financial data stored on credit and debit cards into symbols. This gives you another layer of protection.

Following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, contactless payment option soared in popularity. As a result, the U.S. saw a notable growth in NFC penetration compared to other countries as well. During 2021, over 4 in 10 U.S. smartphone users used contactless payment at least once. So, an increasing number of savvy consumers are using options such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay to buy things. Even Android owners can take part in the NFC transaction trend with PayPal’s Android app.

Tip #3: Be Proactive

If you sense a breach of your debit card’s information, report it quickly. Tell the card issuer that your card is missing or stolen before any unauthorized transactions occur, you will not be held financially responsible for such transactions – that is federal law.

If you notice criminal activity has taken place, the longer you wait to let the card issuer know about it, the less money you may end up recovering. Report the crime within two business days, and your maximum liability is $50 under the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Past that deadline, your maximum liability could be as much as $500. Wait 60 days or longer to report debit card theft, and the missing funds may not be restored to your account at all.

Besides notifying the card issuer, you should also tell the three leading U.S. credit bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – about any debit card data theft and unauthorized transactions. You can file a police report as well as an identity theft affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. Both documents may be useful to the major credit-reporting agencies.

The bottomline

The best defense to prevent a debit card hack is caution. Acting carefully when you use your card, debit or credit, makes it harder for fraudsters to take advantage of you.

Vigilance is also important. Make sure that you review your bank account statements regularly. That way, you can monitor any changes. If anything seems unusual, notify your bank as soon as possible. While you may not be able to stop data breaches or full-on theft, picking up habits like these can help you minimize loss.