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How Do I Protect a Debit Card?

As debit cards are frequently used for everyday purchases, consumers should know how to protect them. Customers should exercise caution at automatic teller machines (ATMs) and personal identification number (PINs) should never contain the owner's birthdate or other easy-to-guess combinations of numbers or letters. If a debit card is lost or stolen, the issuing bank should be notified immediately to cancel the card. Experts recommend checking online debit card accounts frequently and looking at statements carefully to detect any unauthorized spending.

Unlike a credit card, a debit card is linked directly to a checking account. The amount of money available for a consumer to spend is limited to the amount of money in his or her checking account. Money is immediately deducted from the account when a debit card is used to buy an item. Many stores give customers the option to request cash back while using the card to make a purchase.

When using a debit card at an ATM, customers should leave if they notice suspicious activity, and should use their shoulders to block others from seeing the PIN they enter on the keypad. If the card slot appears to have been tampered with, experts advise debit card holders not to use the machine.

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A debit card requires a unique PIN to complete purchase transactions within a store or to withdraw funds from an ATM. Users should not use a birthdate as a PIN or any other combination of letters or numbers that would increase the chances of someone guessing the number if the card were stolen. Experts recommend that debit card holders memorize their PIN. Those who have trouble remembering the code should write it down and store it separately from the debit card.

Those who have access to mobile banking or online checking account access benefit from monitoring their account daily, and customers who receive paper statements in the mail should carefully examine each transaction. Banking experts do not recommend viewing only the total balance of the account. Debit card thieves may perform a test swipe that only deducts a small amount from an account. If the test swipe proves to be successful, the thieves are likely to wait a few days before making large purchases with the debit card, so the customer should look at the entire list of recorded transactions.

Lost or stolen debit cards should be reported to the bank as soon as possible. Unlike credit card owners, debit card users do not have zero-liability protection. In the US, the Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card owners in the event of fraudulent use of their card or if they receive damaged items. Debit card consumers are at an increased risk of having checks returned for non-sufficient funds if the card is not immediately reported lost or stolen. A customer might also choose to file a police report to document a theft.

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