Are debit cards safe? Here’s what to know Debit cards are safe, but they’re even safer when you put security measures in place and lean into fraud prevention best practices. August 29, 2023 If you’re leaving home, chances are good you’re bringing your debit card along with you. Tucked into your pocket or uploaded to your digital wallet, a debit card is a must-have if you need to withdraw cash or pay for anything with the money in your checking account. (They can be used for money market accounts, too.) In short, a debit card allows instant access to your money. “It has the convenience of a credit card, but it doesn’t charge you interest,” says Kevin Smith, director of product development for Stock-Trak and PersonalFinanceLab. “It doesn’t allow you to overspend what you have.” Most debit cards are the standard cards that banks like Discover® issue to consumers. But there are a few other types of debit cards as well, including Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which are issued by government agencies to provide financial assistance to individuals. Another type of debit card is a prepaid debit card, which must be loaded with money before use. But are debit cards safe? Smith walks you through what you need to know about debit card safety below. Check out the security features of debit cards Smith points out that debit cards have a variety of security features, including a personal identification number (PIN). Only you should know your PIN; it’s the most fundamental way to access the money in your checking or money market account. “My first debit card had a magnetic stripe on the back,” Smith says. “I would swipe it, I would enter a PIN number, and then it would process my transaction.” Now, in addition to those magnetic stripes, debit cards are usually outfitted with a microchip, or “chip” for short. Smith explains that the magnetic stripe, while reliable, was vulnerable to being cloned by fraudsters who possessed lost or stolen debit cards. “Chips prevent cloning of cards much more effectively,” Smith says. To pay with a debit card with a chip, you “dip” the chip in the card reader. Or, if the reader and card are both enabled with contactless technology, you can securely “tap to pay.” Earn cash back with your debit card Learn More Discover Bank, Member FDIC Many banks have stepped up their security features to protect their customers from fraud, no matter how small the risk may be. Take the Fraud Protection feature of Discover Cashback Debit, for instance. With Discover Fraud Protection, you’re never responsible for unauthorized purchases placed on your debit card. In fact, when Discover suspects that a transaction might be fraudulent, it will send customers a text or call to inquire about it. You can always contact Discover if you’re suspicious of any other transactions. Learn how to prevent debit card theft and fraud The owner of the debit card has more control over debit card security than any new technology can provide, Smith says. It all comes down to being aware of how debit card fraud can occur and staying vigilant. “When you go to a restaurant and you go to pay, sometimes they bring a terminal out to you at the table, but sometimes they bring the debit card to the back,” Smith says. Smith suggests being wary of letting your debit card leave your sight: “You don’t know if they’re going to the back room to write down your name, your debit card number, your CCV code, and expiration code.” (The CCV code is the card verification value code, a 3- or 4-digit number usually found on the back of your card.) That’s all the information a fraudster needs to go on an online shopping spree with your card. “If you really want to be secure with your PIN, you should change it once in a while.” “To me, that’s the biggest risk—someone writing down your card details or taking a picture of it,” he says. He adds that if the gas station or store you’re in feels suspicious, you may just want to use cash (and avoid that place in the future). Smith says that online shopping is often the most secure way to use your debit card. “In the last 10 years or so, the SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, where they use HTTPS, prevents the hijacking of transactions,” he says. You can look for the “HTTPS” within the URL of the website you’re on to ensure it’s secure before making an online purchase. You can also look for a padlock icon next to the URL, which most browsers use to indicate a site is secure. Search engines will also typically warn you if a website you clicked on is not secure before you visit it. When it comes to visiting an ATM, you want to pay attention to your surroundings, especially if you’re withdrawing cash after dark and on your own. In all situations, make sure that no one is looking over your shoulder as you enter your PIN. If you don’t need a receipt, then don’t print one, as they sometimes contain account information. Fraudsters can install what are called “skimmers” at ATMs and other physical point-of-sale terminals, often those at gas stations, that scan or copy your card numbers for use in fraudulent transactions. While most merchants use chip readers, be aware of terminals that only allow you to swipe the card. While these terminals are less common today, they still exist and are more likely to be exploited for skimmer placement. Beef up on debit card security best practices Adopting some debit card security best practices can go a long way toward ensuring your experience with your debit card is safe and secure. Plus, many of these also double as good habits that you can build with your debit card. Protect your PIN PIN numbers are another way to keep your account safe, and they’re more secure than a scrawled signature. But it’s critical to keep your PIN safe. Smith says not to keep a record of your PIN in the same place as your actual physical debit card and to avoid giving your PIN to others. “If you really want to be secure with your PIN, you should change it once in a while,” he says. Ideally, you’d update your PIN every few months, but Smith says that even once a year would keep most consumers ahead of the curve. Set up account alerts and monitor your account activity Some banks that issue debit cards will send alerts or notifications about overspending or suspicious activity, which can be helpful in identifying a potentially fraudulent charge. As mentioned, if Discover ever declines a debit card for suspected fraud, the customer will get a text or call asking about the transaction. If the customer replies affirmatively to confirm making the transaction, the card will be unlocked, and the next attempted transaction will be processed. Depending on your bank, you may also be able to set up alerts for account balances, large withdrawals, changes to your login or contact information, and more. “If you’re using your debit card for mostly online purchases, your biggest risk is not so much the security of the card,” Smith says. “The biggest risk is general overspending, which is its own can of worms.” To sidestep that risk, overdraft protection can be a fee-saving debit card feature because it allows you to cover any overdrafts with a separate linked account, such as an online savings account. Take these steps if you experience debit card fraud or if your debit card is stolen If the worst happens—you lose your card, it gets stolen, or you notice a fraudulent transaction—you need to know the steps to take. “Lock the card immediately,” Smith says, which you can do by calling your bank or disabling the card through your bank account’s website or app. After locking the card to prevent any further fraudulent transactions, you may wonder: Can I track my debit card if it’s lost or stolen? Unfortunately, that’s not possible. Unlike smartphones, debit cards don’t feature any location-tracking technology. “After that, you have to work with your bank to figure out what the policies are around fraudulent purchases,” Smith says. “These vary from bank to bank and credit union to credit union.” If you think you’ve temporarily misplaced your card, you may want to disable it for a short time. At Discover, you can freeze your debit card which acts as a temporary lock while you look for it so you don’t have to cancel the card and change your card number. But regardless of whether your card gets lost or is stolen, you should closely monitor your account activity to identify any additional fraudulent transactions that occur when the card is out of your possession. As mentioned above, you’ll never be responsible for unauthorized purchases with Discover Fraud Protection. Simply contact Discover if you’re suspicious of any transactions. The best debit cards feature both security and rewards If you’re still wondering, “Are debit cards safe?” Smith says the answer is yes. Just make sure you keep his best practices in mind so that your debit card information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Did you know that some debit cards like Discover Cashback Debit also offer features like cash back rewards1 and Early Pay with direct deposit?2 Check it out, and see what the future of checking looks like when fraud protection and rewards come together. Articles may contain information from third parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information. 1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), online sports betting and internet gambling transactions, and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal®, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple Pay® is a trademark of Apple Inc. Venmo and PayPal are registered trademarks of PayPal, Inc. Samsung Pay is a registered trademark of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Google, Google Pay, and Android are trademarks of Google LLC. 2 Early Pay is automatically available to checking, savings (excluding IRA savings) and money market customers who receive qualifying ACH direct deposits. At our discretion, and dependent on the timing of our receipt of the direct deposit instructions, we may make funds from these qualifying direct deposits available to you up to 2 days early. See our Deposit Account Agreement for more information.