Americans made $1.15 trillion in purchases with their debit cards in 2011, according to CreditCards.com. By 2013, the Nilson report expects more than 67% of all purchases will be made by debit cards. While many consumers choose to use a debit card in order to avoid accumulating credit card debt, they may not be aware that they could lose more of their hard-earned cash through debit card fraud than if they had used a credit card for a purchase.

As you probably know, when you make a purchase with a debit card, the money is taken instantly from your checking account. If someone fraudulently uses your debit card number, you could be responsible for some or all of their charges. According to SmartMoney.com, "If a consumer's debit card has not been lost or stolen but there are unauthorized charges on their account, they will be protected if they report those charges within 60 days of when the statement was sent. When a physical card goes missing or is stolen, consumers have just two business days after learning about the loss to notify the card issuer; those who do will limit their losses to $50. Otherwise, they could lose up to $500. If they take months to notify the bank, they may not recoup any money at all."

Many banks have improved their debit card protections for their customers, and will go beyond the above rules and not make consumers responsible for any charges deemed to be fraudulent, especially if they report the unauthorized transactions as soon as possible.

Here are some rules for keeping your debit card safe:

Check Your Bank Statements Often
Since time is of the essence to receive full fraud protection from your bank, make it a habit of reviewing your bank account online at least once a week, or even daily.

Protect Your PIN Number
Don't give your PIN number to anyone who asks and don't keep it written down anywhere in your purse or wallet. Don't use your PIN at the gas pump: use your card in the credit purchase function to avoid someone seeing it. In fact, using your debit card in credit card mode may offer you extra liability protection depending on your bank.

Consider Avoiding Debit Card Use Online
Some consumers choose to only use credit cards online since a fraudulent credit card transaction will take more time and can become an item of dispute rather than an instant removal of cash from your checking account. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recommends checking for a security symbol such as an unbroken key or a padlock on each website before you order anything because these symbols mean your information will be encrypted and therefore safer.

Only Use ATMs at a Bank
ATMs located in convenience stores, subway stations, airports and other places have a greater risk of having a "skimming" device attached by a thief, which could store your debit card data. This sometimes happens at banks, too, but it is easier to do in a place without surveillance cameras.

Don't Use Public Wireless Access for Financial Transactions
Make sure you are using password protected wireless signal to check your bank account balance, pay bills and to shop so that hackers have less of a chance to capture your password and account information.

Report Problems Immediately
While you would certainly report it right away if your wallet was stolen and your credit and debit cards are missing, you should also report any unauthorized transactions immediately, too. The faster you report a problem, the quicker you can cancel your debit card and prevent additional charges.

Consider Filing a Police Report
If your debit card is stolen, you may want to contact the police so that you have extra support when you want your bank to reimburse the charges.

Create Your Own Security Profile
As long as you remember the answers, you can make up anything you want for your security questions. Using a pet's name or your mother's maiden name makes it too easy for cons to get into your account. The answers just have to be consistent, and not necessarily truthful.

The Bottom Line
While you may find constantly using a debit card to be a great convenience, it won't be so convenient if someone manages to drain your checking account. A little bit of vigilance and some new habits on your part can go a long way to preventing a damaging debit card experience.

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