June 10, 2020

How to Keep Your Debit Card Safe From Scammers (and Skimmers)


Your debit card gives you easy access to the money in your checking account, but with that access should come a dash of caution. Scammers and thieves are always coming up with new ways to try and get their hands on your data, but with a little street smarts and some preparation, you can protect your debit card, your money, and yourself.

According to data from Nilson, global financial losses from card fraud are expected to top $35.67 billion by the end of 2023. That’s a huge sum of money stolen from debit cards and credit cards, and scammers everywhere are working to get their piece.

You may already be familiar with some of the ways that credit cards can protect you from scams. Debit cards have similar concerns. But since your debit card is connected directly to your checking account, finding your own money missing is often a scarier experience than discovering an unexpected balance on your credit card.

Fortunately, there are simple and practical ways that you can help protect yourself from debit card fraud and related identity theft.

Set Account Alerts

In addition to automatically flagging or denying suspicious transactions, most credit unions and banks offer account alerts connected to their online or mobile banking systems. Some are activated by default when you open the account, but you can usually set up your own and customize them for added protection.

If you have a debit card that you don’t often use for large purchases, adding an alert to send you a message any time a large transaction occurs can give you warning that something is up. To add alerts in Tulsa FCU Online Banking, login and go to Additional Services > Alerts.

Access the alerts page under the Additional Services tab to add custom alerts

On the page you will see your existing alerts as well as a button to Add an Alert.

Online Banking alerts from Tulsa FCU can be emailed or texted (or both) to any email address or phone number you choose, and you can set custom amounts for each alert to notify you of transactions that are important (or suspicious) to you. You can even set payment reminders so you don’t forget when your auto loan payment is due.

Watch Where You Swipe

In today’s world, most of the places you swipe are quite safe, but before you reach for your card, it’s a good idea to think twice about where you are. Scammers are known to target specific locations and people. By avoiding using your debit card in these situations, you might save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches

At the Pump

Card skimmers at gas stations are on the rise. Since many gas stations have not yet upgraded to EMV-chip readers, they are a hot spot for information thieves who plant devices known as “card skimmers.” These devices usually fit over the existing card reader (some scammers in Tulsa have even used fake keypads) and allow the scammer to copy your data while you pay for gas.

An example of card skimmer devices found by the MTA in New York.
Photo Credit: “Arrests in Ticket Vending Machine Scam
by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Check the payment processor for anything that looks out of place, such as a newer keypad on an older machine, or a hard-to-use slot for your card. One way to check for a skimmer is to give the card reader itself a little tug (be careful not to damage a real card reader by pulling too hard). If the scanner pops off in your hand, you’ve likely discovered a card skimmer. Notify the owner of the machine and the police.

Most card skimmers must be physically collected by the scammer to retrieve the stolen information, but it’s a good idea to notify your credit union or bank of possible fraud as well and follow their instructions to protect yourself.

If you have a credit card with purchase protection, using when swiping at gas stations could be a way to add a layer of protection between scammers and your own money. You can also choose to use cash and avoid the possibility of digital fraud completely.

Isolated ATMs

The ATM at Tulsa Federal Credit Union? Definitely safe to use.

The one at the crowded pharmacy? Probably OK.

The machine in a secluded corner of an empty convenience store? Very possibly tampered with. 

Isolated ATMs in locations with very little security and sparse foot traffic are prime targets for scammers. It gives them an easy place to set their trap without being interrupted. Give such machines a wide berth, and when in doubt, pick up your cash at an ATM you trust.

A Tulsa FCU ATM at our Main branch with good visibility and drive-up access.

Aside from the danger of skimmers, isolated ATMs tucked away from the public eye can also be a prime spot for muggings. As with any situation, it’s good to keep your wits about you and turn back if something doesn’t feel right. And don’t forget to cover the keypad with your hand when inputting your PIN—it’s good practice no matter where you are.

Unfamiliar Locations or on Vacation

When on vacation, whether domestically or internationally, it’s important to think before you swipe. If you don’t know the area, and you can’t be certain who is trustworthy, you’re better off paying with cash or a credit card so your purchases are protected against fraud. Card skimmers are also a problem in places outside the United States, so be vigilant about foreign ATMs as well.

Making a large withdrawal in an unfamiliar area might might cause your purchases to be flagged as fraudulent, so be sure to let your credit union or bank know about your trip in advance if you intend to swipe.

Use ID Theft Protection

ID theft protection is quickly becoming a must-have for people who are concerned about the safety of their identity in today’s increasingly digital world. There are a variety of options for ID theft protection and restoration services out there, so it’s a good idea to do you research and compare.

Tulsa FCU members can get proactive Identity Protection benefits through our partner ReliaShield, which helps monitor your personal information for suspicious activity.

Members with a Rewards or Interest Rewards checking account also get an included ID theft benefit, which can help guide you through restoring your identity, freezing accounts, and repairing your credit in the event of a breach or theft.

Cancel Your Card if You Believe It is Compromised

If you believe your card has been compromised, stolen, or skimmed, you should contact your bank or credit union immediately to report the fraud and request that the card be canceled and replaced. Tulsa FCU members can use the below contact information to report a lost/stolen debit card.

During Business Hours:
Main (918) 610.0200
Toll-free (800) 256.5626
E-Mail: reportfraud@tulsafederalcu.org

After Hours Hotline: (800) 791.2525

Constant Vigilance

No protection against thieves and scammers is foolproof, but by keeping your eyes open, avoiding high-risk scenarios, and putting some simple protections in place, you can minimize your risk of ID theft and debit card fraud now and in the future.


This article is for educational purposes only. Tulsa FCU makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as legal, tax or financial advice. Nor does the information directly relate to our products and/or services terms and conditions.