Debit vs Credit Cards: Which is safer to swipe?

holiday-credit-or-debitWhile the tens of millions of Target shoppers who had their credit and debit card information stolen likely won’t be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions that may occur, debit card users could face much bigger headaches than credit card users.

That’s because debit and credit cards are treated differently by consumer protection laws. Under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can’t exceed $50. But if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.

“I know people love their debit cards. But man oh man, they are loaded with holes when it comes to fraud,” said John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com, a credit management website.

Plus, if someone uses your credit card, the charge is often credited back to your account immediately after it’s reported, Ulzheimer said. Yet, if a crook uses your debit card, not only can they drain your bank account, but it can take up to two weeks for the financial institution to investigate the fraud and reimburse your account.

“In the meantime, you might have to pay your rent, your utilities and other bills,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The organization recommends that consumers stick to credit cards as much as possible.

Whichever card you decide to swipe, here are ways to protect yourself from scammers.

Be vigilant with your accounts: The Target hack is just the latest in a long history of data breaches, and it likely won’t be the last.

As a result, you should check your debit and credit account activity at least every few days and keep an eye out for any unfamiliar transactions. If you notice anything fishy, notify your financial instituion or credit card company immediately.

“Waiting until the end of the month to check out your credit card statement for fraudulent use is a relic of the past,” Ulzheimer said. “Fraud is a real-time crime, and we as consumers have to be constantly engaged.”

Set your own fraud controls: Financial institutions have their own internal fraud controls, but some transactions can slip through the cracks, said Al Pascual, senior analyst of security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Many financial institutions will let you set alerts for account transactions. Even better, some allow you to block transactions that are out of the ordinary for you, such as for online purchases at a certain kind of retailer or for any purchases over $500.

“We believe that consumers are going to know best as to how to protect their account,” he said. “They know their own behaviors.

Did you know that First Financial has ID Theft Protection services? When you enroll in one of these services, one of the benefits you’ll receive is an automatic alert sent to you via email and text message, allowing you to confirm whether or not any recent activity is fraudulent. With Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored. Click here to learn more and get started today!

Watch out for fraud hotspots: You should be especially wary of using a debit card online and at retailers more vulnerable to fraud.

Gas stations and ATMs are hotspots for so-called “skimmers,” or machines that scammers install to capture your card information. Watch out for ATM parts that look unusual and always cover your hand when typing your PIN in case a camera is watching, said Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst with the Aite Group.

Don’t let your guard down: If you think your information has been compromised, don’t assume everything’s fine after a few months. Stolen card information is often sold to a variety of groups on the black market who may hold onto it for months or even years.

“Many times these fraud rings will wait until the news dies down and people have forgotten about it before they use that data,” Inscoe said. “It may not be used until next winter, so it really is a good idea for people to monitor their activity.”

If you fall victim to ID Theft, don’t panic – First Financial is here to help! Report the incident regarding any of your First Financial accounts immediately, by calling us at 866.750.0100 or emailing info@firstffcu.com

*Article by Melanie Hicken of Yahoo Finance – click here to view the article source.