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Checking account debit card safety:10 tips

October 28, 2010

By Barbara Marquand | Money Rates Columnist

You use your debit card more than your credit card for purchases if you're like most Americans, and in many cases that makes sense. You avoid racking up more credit card debt, and you earn points if you have rewards checking.

Unfortunately you also put your bank accounts at risk if you're not careful. Pulse, a Discover Financial Services company, offered this advice for debit card safety to keep your checking account safe.

10 Tips For Debit Card Safety

1. Keep your PIN a secret.

Even the dumbest crook can access your bank accounts if you write your PIN on your debit card or keep it stored in your wallet -- surprisingly common mistakes. Memorize your PIN, maintain different PINs for different accounts, change your PINs every so often, and block the view of others when you enter your PIN.

2. Don't give out checking account information over the phone.

Don't disclose your PIN or other account information to callers. No bank representative should ever ask for your PIN, so hang up on callers who claim to be from your financial institution and ask for your personal financial details.

3. Never take the bait in a phishing scam.

Don't disclose debit card, credit card, checking or savings account, or any other personal financial information in response to unsolicited email or text messages, even if they appear to be from your bank.

4. Use your credit card for shopping online.

Most experts recommend using your credit card instead of a debit card when shopping online, because credit cards come with better consumer protections in case of fraud or billing disputes.

5. Report a lost checking account debit card immediately.

Under federal law, your liability is limited to $50 for unauthorized use for a debit card, but only if you report it within two business days.

6. Preserve your debit card's magnetic stripe.

Keep your debit card away from magnets, which can destroy the magnetic stripe on the back of your debit card.

7. Always enter your own checking account PIN.

Just say no thank you if a cashier or anyone else offers to enter your debit card PIN. Do it yourself instead.

8. Stay on guard at ATM terminals.

Look around you before you start a transaction at an ATM terminal, and leave if you spot anyone or anything suspicious. Trust your gut.

9. Don't use strange-looking ATM and payment terminals.

Crooks skim credit card and debit card information by attaching fake card readers and secondary keypads to ATM machines and other payment terminals. Don't use a machine that looks as if someone tampered with it. Report the problem to the owner and go elsewhere.

10. Make sure your checking or savings account transaction is complete.

Don't leave the machine until you're certain the transaction is finished, and you've put your cash away.

The convenience and frequency of debit card use can lure you into a false sense of security. Be mindful when you use your debit card to keep your saving and checking account safe.

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