[Editor's note: today's guest post is by Odysseas Papadimitriou, a personal finance industry expert and CEO of the credit card comparison website Card Hub as well as the new personal finance social network Wallet Hub. I have written previously about CardHub.com, and hope to see the site develop more tools and information to help consumers make informed decisions about financial products. Consumers often ask whether debit cards or credit cards are better. Today, Mr. Papadimitriou answers that question regarding fraud prevention.]
By Odysseas Papadimitriou
We all work hard, pay obscene amounts in taxes, have seemingly endless bills to pay, and certainly don’t want to be handing out money to strangers or serving as the financial backing for common criminals. That’s why I regularly hear from consumers who are terrified of falling victim to fraud and are wondering about the best ways to safeguard their finances, especially whether a credit card or debit card will better protect them.
Spoiler Alert: The combination of federal laws and policies instituted by the major networks limit liability for unauthorized purchases made with either a credit card or a debit card, often to $0.
In other words, even if someone does get ahold of your card or account information, you probably won’t ultimately be out any money. That, combined with the fact that fraud only affects about 0.005% of all credit and debit card transactions, means it isn’t as big of a concern as many people think.
Credit vs. Debit
With the above being said, there are differences between credit cards and debit cards when it comes to fraud. First of all, you won’t be liable for any fraudulent credit card transactions, whereas you may or may not be liable for debit card transactions, depending on how quickly you report the fraud and whether or not the transactions in question were completed with a signature or your account’s PIN.
In addition, the decision between a credit card and a debit card will affect how difficult fraud is to deal with from a logistical standpoint. The reason has to do with the fundamental differences between these products.
When you make a purchase with a debit card, funds are automatically removed from your account. On the other hand, the bank initially foots the bill when you pay with credit, and you aren’t required to spend any of your own money for days.
Therefore, you can usually sort out credit card fraud before it affects the rest of your life or requires you to retrieve any money. The same cannot be said for debit card fraud, as you might not notice the fraudulent activity before you are required to cut checks for other monthly obligations; if they bounce, you’ll have even more to sort out.
Other Anti-Fraud Tips
While using a credit card can help simplify fraud fallout, there are a number free and easy ways that you can proactively safeguard your finances.
- Check your credit reports: Everyone is entitled to a copy of each of their three major credit reports (i.e. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once every 12 months, and reviewing them is a good way to ensure that no one has opened any financial accounts under your name.
- Lock your mailbox & shred documents: Thieves have been known to raid people’s mailboxes (especially when they’re out of town) and trash in search of direct mail credit card offers, replacement cards, and financial information they can use to open accounts in other people’s names.
- Choose secure passwords: You don’t want someone to be able to hack into your e-mail or online banking account just because they know your child or pet’s name. You should ideally use a combination of letters, numbers, and selective capitalization and update your passwords every couple of months.
- Be wary of giving out financial information: The best policy is to only give sensitive financial information to people you contact, rather than the other way around. This allows you to ensure you know who you’re dealing with and drastically reduces your chances of falling for a scam.
You should ultimately take three things from this article: 1) Fraud isn’t as problematic as the local news makes it out to be; 2) Credit cards protect you from fraud better than debit cards; and 3) There are a number of easy ways that you can protect yourself on a daily basis. In other words, you should be vigilant in protecting your money but not let the fear of fraud consume you.
What should be of greater concern is choosing the right financial products and managing them responsibly. Consumers are on pace to incur $50 billion in credit card debt for the second straight year, and not only is budgeting therefore in order, but there are also a number of excellent credit card offers out there that can help lower the financial burden.