Avoiding debit card theft

"Honestly, I was livid. I was furious and I was angry. And a little scared that somebody had managed to get into my account so easily," said Katy Henthorne, a debit-card fraud victim.

Thieves were able to copy Henthorne's debit card information, the /*PIN code*/ and the account number. She is grateful her bank spotted the theft almost immediately.

"They saved me potentially thousands of dollars," said Henthorne.

/*Consumer Reports*/ says the equipment thieves need to copy your debit card information is available online.

"Criminals secretly install a device called a 'skimmer' on your /*ATM*/ machine," said Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports.

Thieves then use the stolen information to create a new card. Attorney John Campbell says that can lead to disaster.

"Your whole account could be wiped out, including money you had set aside for your mortgage, for your car payment, for other payments," said Campbell, who helps victims of bank fraud.

Campbell says you're most vulnerable at places like gas stations, convenience stores and airports, where it's easier to install skimmers. But you should still check to make sure nothing looks loose or out of place at your bank ATM.

Fortunately, there is one simple thing you can do to get better protection.

"When you're making a purchase with your bank card, press 'credit,' not 'debit,'" said Stanger.

The money is still deducted like a debit, but you don't use your PIN code, so a criminal can't steal it. In addition, by using the "credit" option, in most cases you'll only be responsible for $50 of any loss.

Henthorne says now she never uses her PIN code unless the bank teller asks for it.

Consumer Reports says another important way to protect against debit card theft is to check your account frequently online. That way you can spot any suspicious activity right away.



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