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Debit Card Fraud Protection—A Thorough Breakdown

Ashley Ferraro, Product
Oct 5, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

According to a 2023 trend report by ComplyAdvantage, credit and debit card fraud is one of the most dreaded financial crimes in the United States. The latest estimates suggest that fraudulent purchases of e-commerce products using stolen cards are expected to surpass $10 billion by 2024.

If you prefer debit cards, it’s wise to know how safe your finances are in the case of fraud. Government and banking authorities have policies to safeguard consumers, so you can expect certain debit card fraud protection measures

In this guide, you will learn the ins and outs of debit card security and answer common questions like:

  • What kind of fraud protection do debit cards have?
  • How much are you liable for if your debit card is stolen?
  • What to do if your debit card is hacked or compromised?
  • How can you protect your debit card online?

How Are Debit Cards Protected From Fraud?

Payment card fraud includes instances of a thief or a malicious party getting access to your card—or card credentials—and making unauthorized transactions. When an ATM or debit card fraud happens, the cardholder loses money directly from their associated checking account, which can wreak havoc on their finances.

In the case of fraudulent transactions, federal law limits consumer financial liability to an extent, depending on when you reported your debit card lost or stolen. Additionally, your bank or card network may also offer a degree of protection against card fraud.

Learn about these protections in detail through the following sections:

  1. Debit card consumer protection under federal law
  2. Bank or card network debit card fraud protection

Debit Card Consumer Protection Under Federal Law

Under the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), your liability for fraudulent charges on your debit card generally depends on when you report the fraud, though there are other criteria. The earlier you notify the bank or card issuer, the lower the liability.

A back-angle shot of a woman sitting by a desktop computer and attempting to make a call on a smartphone
Source: Karolina Grabowska

Refer to the following table to understand how the reporting timeline impacts the maximum liability for lost or stolen debit cards:

Debit Card Fraud--Reporting Timeline
Maximum Liability
Immediately, before any unauthorized charges are made
$0
Within two business days after you discover the card loss or theft
$50
Within 60 business days of receiving your bank statement that displays the unauthorized charges $500
After 60 business days of receiving your bank statement
Potentially unlimited

To sum it up, your overall liability generally depends on how quickly you respond after discovering your card is lost, stolen, or misused. Failing to notify on time can lead to unlimited liability, which implies you could lose:

  • All the money stolen from your checking account
  • The money in accounts linked to your checking account

Note that if the unauthorized activities are the result of stealing your debit card number—and not your physical card—you may not be held responsible for fraudulent transactions if you report them on time, typically within 60 days of receiving the bank statement showing those transactions[1].

Do All Debit Cards Offer Fraud Protection Under EFTA?

The EFTA regulations mostly cover consumer debit cards and consumer purchases rather than their business counterparts[2]. Although some issuers or card networks offer built-in fraud protection measures, if you’re using a commercial or business debit card, you may be unable to take advantage of the federal fraud protection benefits. You can potentially lose all of the funds in your business checking account, plus any misused overdraft line of credit.

Bank or Card Network Debit Card Fraud Protection

Most banks and card networks have pro-customer policies—they are typically more lenient regarding your liability in the case of fraudulent debit card transactions.

Some banks may impose a maximum $50 liability for unauthorized ATM or debit card activity[3]. However, many banks won’t hold you liable at all[3]. The protection varies depending on your card service provider and the type of card you have.

For example, Capital One debit cards connected to 360 online checking accounts enjoy $0 liability for unauthorized charges (this information is latest as of August 2023[4]). However, it is important to note that these claims are subject to verification and investigation by the bank according to the relevant terms and conditions.

Besides the bank’s protection, card networks like Visa® and Mastercard® also offer a $0 liability fraud cover on certain debit cards (within specified limits).

Mastercard, for instance, doesn’t hold consumer cardholders responsible for fraudulent in-store, online, or over-the-phone purchases on their debit cards, provided the victim[5]:

  1. Took reasonable care to protect their card from theft.
  2. Reported the financial institution promptly after discovering the card was compromised.
A smartphone displaying a shopping app, placed vertically against a wall with some payment cards lying around
Source: Ivan Samkov

Mastercard fraud protection benefits may not be available for commercial debit cards, gift cards, or unregistered prepaid cards. Refer to your card’s terms to get a clear picture of the available protection.

What To Do When Your Debit Card Is Compromised?

Whether your debit card is lost, stolen, or misused, the best practice is to report the activity right away to limit your liability.

Call your bank immediately after noticing your missing card or the suspicious activity in your account. Most financial institutions have 24/7 customer service support. If you operate an online checking account, you can log in and report the fraud, typically by accessing the Debit Card or Account options. Once your bank acknowledges the issue, it’s recommended to follow up with a written letter or an email. 

Banks generally suspend your debit card instantly and launch a fraud investigation within ten business days after the report is made[6]. In some cases, the bank may freeze your funds in the account relating to fraudulent transactions[7]. You can always ask to view the final investigation report.

If you have any issues with how the bank investigators are handling your case or want other authorities to look into the fraud, you can:

  • Contact the police—You can report the financial crime to your local police station or FBI field office.
  • Reach out to consumer finance—The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) takes complaints about financial products or services. You can submit an official complaint online or over the phone at (855) 411-2372.
  • File an Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) complaint—The IC3 is run by the FBI and investigates criminal activities conducted via the internet.

How To Protect Your Debit Card From Fraud

As a debit card user, you may already employ common safety measures, like keeping your PIN safe or securing your physical card. Still, several lesser-known practices can significantly mitigate the risk of debit card fraud:

  1. Using chip-and-PIN authentication for transactions
  2. Checking account statements and transactions often
  3. Enabling fraud alerts
  4. Staying vigilant online
  5. Using a credible virtual card service

Using Chip-and-PIN Authentication for Transactions

Debit and credit card security has improved in the past decade thanks to EMV or chip-enabled cards replacing most magnetic stripe cards. The dynamic authentication data element (ADe) of chip cards changes constantly compared to the static data held by magnetic cards. As a result, it becomes difficult for thieves to physically clone card data to create fake cards

If you’re still using a magnetic stripe card, the first thing you should do is contact your bank to get a chip card. It’s recommended to enable chip-and-PIN authentication over chip-and-signature authentication for transactions[8].

Chip-and-PIN authentication can protect your funds in the case of physical theft because the thief cannot use the card unless they know the PIN you’ve created. Chip-and-signature authentication is relatively weaker because it requires a cashier or salesperson to verify a signature manually, making the verification process prone to human errors.

Checking Account Statements and Transactions Often

Both federal and bank fraud protections rest on how fast you report fraud, which is why monitoring your periodic account statements is crucial. 

Your account statements are typically mailed to you or sent to your email address. In many cases, these can also be accessed via your online banking portal. If you report any discrepancies or suspicious transactions within 60 days of receiving the statement, your legal liability should not exceed $500.

A close-up shot of a person flipping pages of a document
Source: Vanessa Garcia

Enabling Fraud Alerts

If you want a more straightforward way to monitor your account activity, consider activating banking alerts. Most banks offer to send text or email notifications for suspicious activities or all transactions in general. That way, you can identify fraudulent activity sooner than you would solely by reviewing account statements.

Staying Vigilant Online

While EMV technology may help protect your debit and credit cards in the case of physical theft, it cannot do much in terms of online protection. Regardless of the type of card you use online, you are vulnerable to threats like security breaches and hacking and phishing attacks.

Check out the following table for some tips to protect your payment cards online:

Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks
Never share your payment card information on public Wi-Fi as hackers can intercept the transmitted data, stealing login credentials, security PINs, and other sensitive details.
Verify the Security of a Merchant’s Website
If you’re using a merchant’s website for the first time, verify its security by checking if the URL is preceded by a lock symbol and contains “https.” Shady websites often contain “http,” a non-secure protocol.
Stay Wary of Phishing Scams
Phishing scammers attempt to trick you into sharing sensitive card details. Never respond to suspicious emails or texts asking you to send card data over the phone, via email, or on a website.

Using a Credible Virtual Card Service

Staying vigilant on the internet is not enough—you need a virtual card service to secure your debit card transactions.

When you make an online purchase with a credit or debit card, you must input your card credentials on the merchant’s website. In the event that the website faces a security breach, the hacker can access your card information. According to the 2023 Q2 data released by the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network, credit and debit cards were the top two payment methods used in fraud cases. The highest loss ($89.8 million) was reported in the Online Shopping category.

A virtual card can protect your financial data from being exposed to unwanted parties by acting as a decoy.

A virtual card is a randomly generated 16-digit number with its own expiration date and security code, and it’s tied to a real funding source, such as your debit card or checking account. You can use it like a regular payment card to complete online and over-the-phone transactions. If a website’s security is breached, the hacker may uncover your virtual card but won’t be able to steal or misuse your actual financial data.

A close-up, back-angle shot of a person sitting on a couch and using a laptop
Source: Anastasia Shuraeva

The use of virtual cards is rapidly increasing among security-conscious users, with the forecasted market size estimated to hit $1.89 trillion by 2031. Services like Privacy provide a wide range of benefits, such as transaction alerts and spending limits, to improve the security of your financial information.

Strengthen Your Debit Card Security With Privacy Virtual Cards

Privacy is a BBB (Better Business Bureau®) accredited, PCI-DSS compliant company that helps significantly reduce the risk of payment card fraud. The service is available to most U.S. residents over 18 with a checking account at a U.S. bank or credit union.

With Privacy, you enjoy a more secure online payment experience thanks to Merchant-Locked and Single-Use Virtual Cards. Here’s how:

Type of Privacy Card
Function
How It Minimizes Fraud
Merchant-Locked Card
It locks to the first merchant you use it at. The card won’t work with other merchants.
A potential hacker won’t be able to misuse the card credentials on another website.
Single-Use Card
It closes immediately after the first transaction, so it cannot be reused.
The credentials of the closed card cannot be used for fraudulent activity anywhere.

You can pause, unpause, or close Privacy Cards anytime, which gives you more control over your finances. Privacy declines all transaction requests on closed and paused cards without affecting the status of your actual debit card or checking account.

You can also use this feature to block unwanted subscription charges or hidden fees, but remember to contact the merchant directly to cancel the subscription.

Other benefits of using Privacy Cards include:

  1. Customizable spending limits
  2. Browser extensions for speedy checkouts
  3. Real-time account monitoring and alerts

Customizable Spending Limits

You can customize the spending limits of your Privacy Cards anytime. Set per-card, monthly, or annual limits, and Privacy will automatically decline transactions that exceed your defined budget.

Browser Extension for Speedy Checkouts

You don’t have to reach for your wallet to find your debit or credit card credentials every time you shop online. Privacy can save you time during checkouts with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browser extensions that autofill your virtual card data on the checkout screen.

Real-Time Account Monitoring and Alerts

Privacy offers real-time account monitoring services on different devices. You can enable email alerts to get notified every time your virtual card is used or declined. Additionally, you can use Privacy’s centralized dashboard to oversee your account activities and transactions in one place.

If you want to monitor your account activity on your phone, install Privacy’s Android or iOS app and receive push notifications for transactions and declines on the go. Like the browser version, the mobile app enables you to create and manage virtual cards for a seamless checkout experience.

A close-up shot of an unrecognizable man using his smartphone outside a building
Source: William Fortunato

How To Get Started With Privacy Virtual Cards

Request one or more Privacy Virtual Cards by following these steps:

  1. Sign up for a Privacy Account
  2. Enter government-mandated Know-Your-Customer (KYC) details
  3. Link your U.S. bank account or debit card
  4. Request and customize a Privacy Card instantly


You can create up to 12 new Privacy Cards per month on Privacy’s Personal plan, which is free for domestic transactions. Explore the paid Pro and Premium plans if your needs evolve—you can generate up to 60 virtual cards every month, enjoy 1% cashback on eligible purchases totaling up to $4,500 every month, and more.

References

[1] Federal Trade Commission. https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-debit-cards, January 14, 2019
[2] Caton Hanson. Nav. https://www.nav.com/blog/dump-your-business-debit-card-10564/, March 26, 2020
[3] Amy Loftsgordon. NOLO. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/unauthorized-credit-debit-card-charges-29654.html, sourced August 2023
[4] Capital One, https://www.capitalone.com/bank/debit-card/, sourced August 2023
[5] Mastercard. https://www.mastercard.us/en-us/personal/get-support/zero-liability-terms-conditions.html, sourced August 2023
[6] Gail Hillebrand. CFPB. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/four-steps-you-can-take-if-you-think-your-credit-or-debit-card-data-was-hacked/, January 27, 2014
[7] Sophia Acevedo. Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/debit-card-fraud, September 8, 2022
[8] Kali Hawlk. MyBankTracker.https://www.mybanktracker.com/credit-cards/faq/how-secure-chip-and-pin-authentication-263173, May 5, 2023
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
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Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
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Privacy virtual cards
Spending Limits

Set a spending limit, and Privacy will block all charges that go over the limit

Merchant-Locked Cards

Lock your Privacy card to one merchant you frequently shop from

Single-Use Cards

Secure your one-time payments to websites whose trust worthiness you're unsure of

Pause/Close Cards

By pausing or closing a card, Privacy will block all future transactions

Get a Privacy Card Now
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
Sign Up
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
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