Scam Alert: 5 Places to Avoid Using a Debit Card While Traveling
Debit cards don’t have the same kinds of protections credit cards do. (Photo: iStock)
By Blane Bachelor
Packing for your next trip? Consider leaving your debit card behind. Just one swipe could ruin your vacation or business trip.
Security breaches like last December’s hack of Target stores have raised awareness of the dangers of using debit cards, but security and financial experts say many people are still in the dark about their risk – especially away from home, when they are already higher targets for theft.
“People love to waive security for convenience, and people love to use debit cards for convenience,” said Frank Abagnale, a Washington, D.C.-based security consultant who works closely with the FBI and was portrayed in the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can. “With a debit card, you’re basically exposing your money in your account every time you use it.”
A savvy fraudster can quickly drain the account your debit card is tied to, and if you don’t report unauthorized use right away – which can be hard while traveling, especially overseas – you could lose all the money in your account, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
If you become a victim, you’ll likely have to wrangle with your bank to fix the situation. And “even if you get your money back, you’re looking at cash flow problems, bounced checks and problems with your credit,” says Beverly Harzog, an Atlanta-based credit card expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie.
The solution, the experts say, is to use a credit card instead, because federal law limits your loss from credit card fraud to just $50, and you have 60 days to report it. But if you must use a debit card, make sure to avoid swiping it at the following five places:
Gas stations are an easy target for thieves, because people are always trying to get in and out quickly, meaning the thieves (and the devices they use) are much more likely to go unnoticed. They install skimmers into pay-at-the-pump machines to read and capture the information on your card, and they use tiny cameras to steal your personal identification numbers (PINs) when you punch them in. So while you’re fueling up for that long road trip, they can be draining your bank account for a long spending spree.