If you are one of the many people who use their debit card regularly for purchases, you may want to reconsider. Debit card fraud has been rising steadily over the last few years. More sophisticated technology has helped make skimmers harder to detect at gas pumps, ATMs, and other payment terminals. Fraudulent "card-not-present" transactions, such as online or over the phone, are also fueling the increase.

Being vigilant is the best way to protect your hard earned money.

If you are a victim of debit card fraud, you are immediately impacted as money is removed from your account. But unlike a credit card, don't assume that you will get all of it back. Debit cards do not have the same liability protection as credit cards. Your liability depends on how quickly you report your card (or information) lost or stolen.

  • $0 if you report it before it is used for any unauthorized transactions.

  • $50 if you report it within 2 business days after you learn about the unauthorized transaction.

  • $500 if you report it more than 2 business days but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you.

  • If you report it more than 60 days after your statement is sent to you, all the money taken from your account could be gone.

  • The FTC provides these tips for dealing with lost or stolen credit, ATM, and debit cards.

Protect Your Account

To best protect your account, don't use your debit card to make purchases. If you prefer to use a debit card, protect your money by using a separate account just for your debit card and keep most of your money in your primary account. Don't link the secondary account to your primary account. That way if someone gets your debit card information or the debit card itself, they can't steal all of your money.

Be careful where you choose to use your debit card. Here are a few places you should avoid using your debit card.

  • Gas pumps. Not only are they a favorite target for skimmers, gas stations may put a hold on your account for several days tying up more money than the amount of the purchase.

  • Online. You have better protections when paying with a credit card.

  • Stand-alone ATMs. These are also a favorite target especially if they are located in isolated spots or an ATM that isn't associated with a financial institution.

Whether you use a debit card or not, check all of your accounts regularly. Sign up for the alerts offered by your financial institutions and credit card companies. Being vigilant is the best way to protect your hard earned money.