- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—A debit card is a consumer’s go-to payment for gasoline, groceries and almost every other routine payment, even though a credit card offers greater legal protection and fewer risks.

“From the research we’ve done,” says Shaun Murphy, founder of PrivateGiant, a company scheduled to launch this fall that protects personal information online, “when people sign up with for a bank account or credit union, they just get a debit card. They don’t understand the difference.”

When to keep your debit card in your wallet:

Mobile-device charging stations: Most are free, but some ask users to swipe their card first for a “secure” charge. Avoid both. The charging kiosk could include an implanted device that steals your debit (or credit) account and password information or uploads malware. Even worse, it could hijack everything on your phone, a phenomenon known as Juice Jacking.

“The power port is the same as the data port,” says Murphy. “This thing could be accessing data on your phone. Some phones protect it. As long as it’s locked your phone is encrypted. But a lot of people still don’t use passwords. They’re completely vulnerable. Guess what? Now they’ve got all the data on your phone.”

Online shopping sites: A credit card or PayPal is much safer. If your debit card is lost or stolen, your liability is $50 if you report it within two business days. Liability increases to $500 if reported any time from two days to fewer than 60 calendar days after your statement has been sent. A lost or stolen card not reported for more than 60 days would give a thief ample time to clear out the debit-card account and any associated accounts — and the card holder could be responsible for all losses. (Liability, under federal law, cannot exceed $50 for unauthorized charges on a credit card.)

“With a debit card,” says Murphy, “if they drain your account, you can’t write checks anymore, you can’t pay your mortgage and you can’t pay your rent. That’s real damage.”

Look for the sign of a secure website when checking out, a padlock icon in the browser before an address that begins with https: — the ‘S” stands for “secure.” An “x” or yellow caution icon over the padlock means the link is likely not safe.

“If you have a lock icon up there,” says Murphy, “you are pretty much guaranteed no one can be spying on you.”

Setting up automatic payments: Use auto-pay for recurring monthly bills for cable service or health-club membership, but don’t link it to a debit card or bank account. The risk: The automatic debits continue even after your contract ends.

Big-ticket purchases: A credit card provides greater coverage in disputes and possibly a built-in extended warranty. American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa, on some of their credit cards, extend manufacturers’ warranties for up to a year and $10,000 in coverage.

Registering for a free trial: Any site that demands a credit card to register for a free service is either a scam or a setup for a paid service that’s almost impossible to cancel.

“Assume when you get a free trial that you’re going to be paying for it if you put a debit card in there,” says Murphy. “It’s logical, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t connect the dots.”

Also avoid apps that request credit-card information outside of an app store. If it’s asking for payment to remove a virus, it’s an obvious scam.

Out-of-the-way ATM machines, point-of-sale terminals: Where else would criminals look to implant a skimming device, which scans and stores credit-card information?

“If the gas attendant isn’t paying attention,” says Murphy, “these people go online to find the keys that open the terminals. They actually inject a little hardware device inside. You can’t detect them anymore.”

Pick the most visible ATM or gas pump.

“The more visibility the clerk or the store owner has of these devices,” says Murphy, “the less chance there’s going to be something in there.”

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(c)2015 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

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