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Fraud is always going to be present, but debit cards remain safest way to carry out transactions

By ALLISON MILES
Aug. 21, 2010 at 3:21 a.m.


DEBIT CARD NUMBERS OVER TIME (in millions)Cardholders:

2000: 160

2007: 179

2010: 185

Number of cards:

2007: 440

2010: 525

Number of point-of-sale transactions:

2000: 8,291

2007: 30,312

2010: 40,622

Purchase volume (in billions)

2000: $311

2007: $1,186

2010: $1,646

*2010 data is projected.

Source: United States Census Bureau

DEBIT CARD SAFETY TIPS Know who you're giving your card to.

Keep your pin number and other security to yourself.

If using an ATM or similar device, check to make sure it hasn't been tampered with.

Look over card statements to ensure the charges make sense.

If a statement raises questions, call your financial institution. Oftentimes the companies that handle stores' charges go by different names.

Write "ask for ID" in the signature section of a card, rather than signing your name.

Make your pin number something that isn't easy for someone else to guess.

Never store your debit card and pin number in the same place.

Sources: Allan Bachman, education manager with the association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Luke Billeri, regional vice president for TDECU, Dan Dennis, with American Bank, Ron Wright, vice president of payment systems for TDECU.

It was about two years ago that Echol Castillo noticed a charge on her debit card that shouldn't have been there.

"It was just under $100," said Castillo, a Victoria Foot Locker employee. "I looked it up and was like, 'Well, I didn't do that.'"

Fraud is ever-present in the debit card world, but industry pros say that, for those who take proper precautions, cards remain the safest way to make purchases.

Merchants play their role in preventing debit fraud, said Dan Dennis, with American Bank in Corpus Christi. Most do a good job, but problems do slip in from time to time.

In 2007, TJX Cos., discount store TJ Maxx's parent company, fell victim to fraud when a hacker accessed 45.7 million credit and debit card numbers, the Associated Press reported. The issue led banks to reissue cards to avoid further trouble.

"There have been and will continue to be people who will try to get your money in any way they can," Dennis said.

Financial institutions maintain neural networks to keep customers safe, he said, explaining such programs follow the information flowing on the debit card and recognize unusual behavior.

If charges began appearing in Chihuahua, Mexico, from someone who typically only shops in Texas, for instance, either the financial institution or its security company would likely contact the customer to investigate, Dennis said.

When fraud is detected, most can easily up their electronic security precautions, said Ron Wright, TDECU's vice president of payment systems.

In mid-June, First Victoria bank placed heightened restrictions on its cards after a small amount were compromised, for instance. Shortly after, TDECU heightened security measures when a handful of accounts saw unauthorized charges.

Responsibility falls to the cardholder, too.

Cardholders should know who they're giving their cards to and, if using an ATM, examine the device to make sure it hasn't been tampered with, Wright said. When it comes to paying at restaurants, he said, does the server take the card out of sight?

About 90 percent of card fraud takes place by people the cardholder knows, Wright said.

"That's why you never give your pin out to anybody, including family members," he said.

Allan Bachman, education manager with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, said he writes "ask for ID" in the signature section of his cards. Although it's an inconvenience to show his driver's license, it waives him from all liability of someone were to use his card.

Not every card issue relates to fraud.

A variety of small purchases throughout the day can really add up, Bachman said, and it's easy for people to overdraw their accounts. He suggested looking over bank statements to see the balance and verify that payments do, in fact, belong to the cardholder.

Crystal Herrera is a nurse at DeTar Hospital and said she's never had trouble with her debit card.

She keeps it with her when making payments in person and, when buying online, checks the website out.

If pop-up ads emerge during payment, for instance, it's probably not safe. And she always makes sure sites include a small picture of a lock in the upper corner. That, she explained, indicates the site is secure.

As for Castillo, that one bump in the road hasn't soured her views on debit cards. Her bank cleared up the issue and returned the money she lost.

"I'd rather use that than a credit card because you're paying for it right away," she said. "I'd recommend them."

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