If you must have a debit card, make sure it’s on a secondary account: Money Matters

August 29, 2018

If you must have a debit card, make sure it’s on a secondary account: Money Matters

Q: I enjoyed last Sunday’s column regarding debit cards. I believe you’ve written about them in the past and because of articles such as yours, I stopped using my debit card except at the ATM.

Recently, I finally remembered to go to our local Chase Bank to see about switching over to merely an ATM card. I spoke to one of the bank managers who told me their debit card, with the chip, ensures that they will cover any unauthorized charges that would show up in our checking account, the same as the credit cards.

On her advice, I stayed with my debit card but then read your article Sunday about the woman who incurred $3,000 in overdraft fees from fraudulent debit card purchases and I again wonder if the debit card is, in fact, safe or not.

I would appreciate of you would let me know your opinion on this matter.

J.C., Brunswick

A: These banks tick me off. If you aren’t using the debit card part of your card, why would you have it? Why not switch to an ATM/ PIN-only card?

That’s like saying you have beer left over from a party and you don’t drink beer, and you keep it in the pantry just because you’re too lazy to give it away or throw it away. And then you’re shocked when your underage kid’s friends get into it and you’ve got a problem.

If you possess a card that has the debit card capability, your checking account is at risk. Period. Why would you keep the debit card when you don’t use it?

Yes, your account isn’t as much at risk if you’re not using your card, as opposed to spraying your account number all over town or all over the internet. But if an account number exists, it’s at risk. If an account number doesn’t exist, nothing can happen.

Here’s the question to ask Chase, or wherever anyone else banks: Can you show me the part of federal law that guarantees I’ll have the same protection for a fraudulent debit card purchase as I would for a fraudulent credit card purchase? Don’t make dinner plans. You’ll be waiting a while, because it doesn’t exist.

In reality, most banks do offer zero liability for debit cards. But it’s voluntary. And there are no provisions for getting refunds for overdrafts that may occur as a result of fraudulent debit card purchases.

Chase and the vast majority of other banks don’t charge you to get an ATM/ PIN-only card that cannot be used online and cannot be used except with your four-digit PIN. Why would you allow yourself to be talked out of getting the ATM card to be 100 percent sure you’ll never have a fraudulent debit card transaction?

Yes, a debit card with a chip is better than a card without one. But there have been reports of chip-cloning. Nothing is impossible. If you don’t have a debit card, you can’t have debit card fraud.

Chase’s chip security and promises of zero liability? Like with so many other things in life, it works until it doesn’t.

Q: What do you think about turning the WiFi capability off on your smartphone when away from home and using your cellular data plan to access your financial accounts? Do you think that would be secure?

J.Z., North Ridgeville

A: Given the choices between using data or taking a chance on connecting to some unknown WiFi when away from home, I’d definitely choose the former. Your safest bet is always to use the WiFi in your home -- that’s behind a firewall -- or the WiFi of a trusted relative or friend, or perhaps your workplace. Never, never, never a restaurant or hotel or places like that.

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