Who needs cash and coins anymore? Mobile pay is becoming increasingly popular, and with the help of new devices and apps, credit cards and debit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. Although you’ve probably been purchasing with plastic for decades, it’s critical to keep in mind some classic debit card safety guidelines—and also explore new ones that relate to emerging technologies. Here are eight tips to keep you and your debit card safe. (Note: Even if you don’t use a debit card, some of these best practices apply to credit cards, too!)
1. Sign your card immediately
A signature is no longer required for many transactions, but merchants can still request them, so you’ll still want to sign the back of your card as soon as you receive and activate it. Additionally, some card issuers don’t consider a card valid unless it is signed.
2. Protect your pin
Your PIN, or “personal identification number,” should never be shared with anyone. This four-digit number is required for ATM withdrawals or debit purchases, so it’s critical that you keep it a secret. If you wish to write it down somewhere, put the paper in a locked cabinet and never in your purse or wallet—those are the first places thieves will check! (Also, try to use a PIN that’s difficult to guess, which means avoiding obvious numbers such as birthdays and anniversaries.)
3. Treat your card like cash
Do you have a Visa, MasterCard, or other credit emblem on your card? This means criminals can bypass your PIN and use your debit card as a credit card, so treat it like cash and protect it. Avoid giving it to anyone who will take it out of your sight (like at a restaurant), and although it may be tempting, don’t keep a tab open at the tavern if it means leaving your card behind the bar. If you misplace your card or suspect fraud, immediately contact your provider so you can cancel it and request a new one; thieves will act quickly, so you should, too!
4. Try to use bank-owned ATMs
Regardless of who you bank with, try to use your bank’s ATMs whenever possible, as incidents of skimming—a scam in which fraudsters alter card readers to steal your information—are on the rise. Bank ATMs are more likely to be monitored and maintained, and thus less susceptible to tampering. (Tip: You can also avoid getting stuck with out-of-network fees by using your bank’s ATMs.) If you suspect you’re the victim of a skimming attack, contact your bank to cancel your card immediately.
5. Only use trusted merchants online
Sometimes low prices mean a high risk of fraud. To avoid trickery, use only trusted merchants when shopping online. Look for a padlock icon next to the store’s address in your web browser, which indicates that the website connection is secure and information cannot be intercepted. Look up Google’s Transparency Report and check the company’s social media platforms to see if they are an established brand. When in doubt, bail out!
6. Watch your account
With online banking and mobile apps universally available, you can now see every transaction that occurs on your debit card. Check this regularly—not just to ensure the correct amount is withdrawn when you make a purchase, but periodically to watch out for unapproved charges.
7. Always fill in the tip and total
When signing a paper receipt, it’s quickest to simply sign the bottom and be on your way. It’s also the fastest way to invite fraudulent charges. You should always write the total amount in the appropriate space to ensure that’s the amount you are charged. If you’re not tipping or are tipping in cash, it’s a good idea to write “$0” or put a slash through the field to prevent the receipt from being altered.
8. Keep your bank up to date
Did you move recently, get a new phone number, or change your primary email address? When informing your family and friends about these major life changes, be sure to also keep your bank in the loop. Banks use email, text, phone calls, and letters to alert you of suspicious activity on your account, so you don’t want to miss these critical communications.
Debit cards may seem like old hat, but fraudsters are finding new ways to chip away at your checking account. Protect your funds from scammers scheming to swipe your savings by following the guidelines above. Look for urgent alerts and notifications, and don’t hesitate to contact your bank with questions or concerns.