How to Avoid Debit Card Fraud

Debit card fraud occurs when someone gains access to your debit card number—and, in some cases,?personal identification number (PIN)—to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw cash from your account. There are many different methods of obtaining your information, from unscrupulous employees to hackers gaining access to your data from a retailer's insecure computer or network. Fortunately, detecting debit card fraud doesn't take any special skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Debit card fraud occurs when a thief accesses your card or PIN and makes unauthorized transactions.
  • The easiest way to spot debit card fraud is to sign up for online banking and monitor your account for suspicious activity.
  • Getting bank alerts, going paperless, destroying old debit cards, and protecting mobile devices are recommended ways to help prevent debit card fraud.
  • If you find evidence of debit card fraud, contact your bank immediately and report the activity.
  • If your bank isn't cooperating, try contacting a government agency like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

How to Detect Debit Card Fraud

When your debit card is used fraudulently, the money goes missing from your account instantly. Payments you've scheduled or checks you've mailed may bounce, and you may not be able to afford necessities. It can take a while for the fraud to be cleared and the money restored to your account.

The easiest way to spot problems early is to sign up for online banking if you haven't already. Check your balance and recent transactions daily. The sooner you detect fraud, the easier it will be to limit its impact on your finances and life. If you see unfamiliar transactions, call the bank right away. If you're the forgetful type, start hanging on to the receipts from your debit card transactions so you can compare these against your online transactions.

If you don't want to bank online, you can likely still keep tabs on your recent transactions via phone banking. At the very least, you should review your monthly bank statement as soon as you receive it and check your account balance whenever you visit an ATM or bank teller. However, it can take much longer to detect fraud using these methods.

9 Ways to Protect Yourself

While you may not have any control over hackers and other thieves, there are many things you can control that will help you avoid becoming a victim.

1. Get Banking Alerts

In addition to checking your balance and recent transactions online daily, you can sign up for banking alerts. Your bank will then contact you by email or text message when specific activity occurs on your accounts, such as a withdrawal exceeding an amount you specify or a change of address.

2. Go Paperless

Signing up for paperless bank statements will eliminate the possibility of having bank account information stolen from your mailbox. Shredding existing bank statements and debit card receipts using a paper shredder when you're done with them will significantly reduce the possibility of having bank account information stolen from your trash.

3. Don't Make Purchases With Your Debit Card

Use a credit card, which offers greater protection against fraud, rather than a debit card.

4. Stick to Bank ATMs

Bank ATMs tend to have better security (video cameras) than automated teller machines at convenience stores, restaurants, and other places.

5. Destroy Old Debit Cards

Some shredders will take care of this for you; otherwise, having your old card floating around puts your information at risk.

6. Don't Keep All Your Money in One Place

If your checking account is compromised, you want to be able to access cash from another source to pay for necessities and meet your financial obligations.

7. Beware of Phishing Scams

When checking your email or doing business online, make sure you know who you're interacting with. An identity thief may set up a phishing website that looks like it belongs to your bank or another business you have an account with. In reality, the scammer is looking to get access to your personal information and may attempt to access your bank account.

8. Protect Your Computer and Mobile Devices

Use firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software on your computer and mobile devices while regularly updating it.

9. Use a Secured Network

Don't do financial transactions online when using your mobile devices or computer in a public place or over an unsecured network.

What to Do If You Detect Fraudulent Activity

If you learn that your debit card information has been compromised, contact your bank immediately to limit the damage the thief can do and limit your financial responsibility for the fraud. Contact it immediately by phone, and follow up with a detailed letter stating the full name of the bank employee you spoke with, details of the fraudulent transactions, and any ideas about how your account may have been compromised. Ask your bank to waive any non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees incurred because of the fraud and restore the fraudulently withdrawn funds to your account.

Hopefully, you won't have any trouble resolving the issue directly with your bank, but if you run into obstacles, you can contact a legitimate consumer advocacy group such as Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. There are also government organizations you can contact if your bank isn't cooperating.

The agency to contact depends on the type of bank you use.


If you are unsure what government agency to contact, begin with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

If you have trouble making any of your monthly payments because of the fraud, contact those creditors, explain the situation, and ask if they can do anything for you. This step is crucial, as failure to do so implies your unwillingness to pay them. However, if they know about your hardship, they may be willing to work with you to reschedule payments.

What Happens If My Debit Card Is Used Fraudulently?

Often, funds are withdrawn from your account unless your bank is set up to suspend suspicious transactions automatically. If it does happen, you can contact your bank or financial institution and work with them to get your money back.

How Do People Do Debit Card Fraud?

Generally, your card number and PIN are stolen via various methods and used.

Do They Investigate Debit Card Fraud?

Yes. Banks investigate reports of fraud and escalates any finding to the proper authorities.

The Bottom Line

Anything you can do to make a thief's work more difficult, whether it's staying on top of your balance, spreading your cash out across multiple accounts, or making purchases with credit cards instead of debit, will help safeguard your checking account and decrease your chances of becoming a victim of debit card fraud.

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The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.