What to Do When Your Debit Card Might Have Been Compromised

by Jessica Sommerfield · 5 comments

It’s always startling to get those bank letters in the mail that say “important information enclosed.” I got one last week notifying me that my account “may have been” compromised. As a precaution, my bank was sending me an entirely new debit card and number (my first chip card — a sign of how long I’ve had the old one). My old card was de-activated within a few days, and I had to call to activate the new card. As usual, the new pin number will be sent separately, which meant I couldn’t use an ATM if I needed to.

If you’ve ever had this happen before, it elicits all sorts of questions. Was there fraudulent activity on my account? Who ‘may have’ compromised my card, and when? Am I liable financially?

Although I haven’t had this happen frequently (if it does, it’s a good sign you need to re-examine your habits), I’ve learned a few things to keep in mind, going forward.

First of all, getting a letter like this doesn’t necessarily mean there was a fraudulent transaction. Your bank is simply following a standard precaution. What it does mean is there was suspicious activity associated with your debit card. Your card number and name might have been obtained by an unauthorized source, usually at a retail location with a card processing system targeted by hackers. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad my bank errs on the side of caution.

Secondly, your bank may not even know where and when the card was potentially compromised. Master Card, Visa and other card companies don’t usually release this information to the bank unless there’s a massive breach (such as the Target and Home Depot incidents of the last few years). Card companies simply notify the bank of suspicious activity, and your bank follows its standard policy – which is usually to cancel the card number and issue a new one.

Thirdly, even though you don’t know if, when and where the compromise might have occurred, it’s important to do your own research. Besides credit card companies, banks also monitor account activity. This offers another level of assurance, but you can never be too cautious. We should always keep a close eye on our bank accounts, especially since small, ordinary transactions can be easily overlooked. Hackers often test a stolen card number this way before making major purchases or withdrawals (like dipping a toe in the water to test the temperature before plunging in). This is why I immediately checked my account activity when I received the letter. If there were any unauthorized transactions, I would have called the bank to report them.

Lastly, examine your habits for anything that is leaving your card number vulnerable. While checking my accounts for fraudulent activity, I noticed I’d been using my debit card more than usual. Honestly, the fewer transactions you make with a bank account-linked card, the better (this will also help you avoid ATM theft). If you make frequent electronic purchases, use a credit card, which at least won’t risk your personal checking and savings accounts getting wiped out in the blink of an eye. Along with this, consider the following precautions:

  • When making online purchases, always look for the secure “lock” icon.
  • Listen to your instincts if anything looks fishy about a website you’re entering personal information into.
  • Clear your web browser history frequently. Don’t let your computer save passwords, and delete cookies.
  • Don’t respond to emails requesting verification of personal information. Because of the risks, your bank will never ask you to do this.
  • Be skeptical of application downloads and updates, even if they look legitimate. Scammers are great at creating imitations that install spyware on your computer.
  • Use a quality anti-virus and anti-malware program and make sure it’s enabled to run routine scans.

Learning your debit card might have been compromised isn’t fun, but it’s a good reminder to thank your bank for having your back and guard your personal information more carefully going forward.

What are some things you do to protect your bank account information?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Simi Bees says:

    Yes, we’ve been subject to this several times; we guess, because we travel extensively.
    Over time, we’ve learned to avoid being ‘locked out’ from our money at the ‘compromised’ bank; we’ve established credit cards (with alternately funded accounts) at other financial institutions, so that waiting for the replacement card does not hinder us; just use the ‘other card’ and go on with life until the primary bank card comes back on line.
    Also, we’d advise using any alert system your bank offers. Transactions over a specified amount will trigger an email or text message to your cell. But don’t establish a dollar value with an even number (use an odd number, say $$$.98); or don’t set a threshold that is too low, else you’ll get several texts in the middle of the night for those routine transactions.

  • For the reasons you listed above I try not to use my debit card unless it’s an emergency. With as much cyber crime that is out there I like the protections that are offered by my credit card more so than my debit card.

    Plus on top of that credit cards offer extended warranties on products, purchase protection if there are any problems with the device that you bought, travel insurance and rental car coverage.

    • David Ning says:

      Credit cards do offer more benefits than a debit card, but you could also boost up the benefits a bit if you tell the cashier to ring up a debit card as a credit transaction. Every debit card I know of has a Visa or Mastercard logo, and the debit transactions can still go through the credit network for some additional protection. Keep that in mind next time you, for some reason, are forced to use a debit card.

  • This is great information and it’s good to know how/when behind the reasons that banks send these letters out. I’ve received quite a few.

    • David Ning says:

      Hopefully all these letters turn out to be precaution and false alarms. Getting a letter like this can be scary and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that unnecessarily.

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