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Foil debit card hacking and balance inquiries

Did you know you can use your debit card without entering a PIN? Identity thieves hacking into merchants’ hardware and software and stealing customers’ PINs have made using a debit card risky business. And some merchants, such as gas stations, transmit balance inquiries each time you use a debit card, racking up bank charges. Here’s an easy way to foil them:

When you get to the merchant’s cash register, swipe your debit card, then select “credit” on the keypad and sign the receipt. Your money still comes direct from your checking account, but when you sign for your purchase, you don’t have to enter a PIN. So, even though you’ve used your debit card, you haven’t put your PIN into the system.

This bit of intelligence comes from the Arizona State Credit Union and is confirmed by another credit union in Virginia. The Virginia credit union adds that the strategy also will avoid balance inquiry fees, which occur when you shop at places like gas stations that transmit balance inquiries when customers use debit or ATM cards, because such merchants don’t do balance inquiries when you select “credit.”

Alternatively, you can tell the cashier that you want to sign for your purchase. She or he will ask you to sign the receipt, as you would do with a credit card.

According to The Consumerist, selecting “credit” with a debit card sends the transaction through a different network than the one used for PIN transactions. Banks like you to do this because merchants have to pay more money for signature debits. But it doesn’t cost you a thing.

Image: Channel R, Wikipedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Foil debit card hacking and balance inquiries”

  1. @ Manshu: Not certain: I don’t use debit cards, myself. The reason I checked nationwide for similar advice was to see whether the practice was regional or appeared to be happening across the country.

    Debit cards, of course, are an international phenomenon. If you live outside the US, try googling a wordstring such as debit card signature transaction, plus the name of your country.

  2. I think it has to be a ‘branded’ debit card – mine from my credit union has a VISA logo and provides many of the same purchase and fraud protections that a VISA credit card does.

    My credit union has a high interest checking account that requires you to do 12 of these ‘run as credit’ or ‘sign for’ transactions a month to get the best rate, so I do this a LOT. Just tell the clerk ‘run this as credit please.’

    But I didn’t know about the balance inquire part – good to know!

  3. And I’ve just discovered that Citi is encouraging this practice with a promotion of their own: use your card three or more times, reaching a total of $250, and they’ll give you $15. That beats the 1% reward I would earn on my credit card, so I might as well sign up for it and see if I actually need to spend that much between now and 9/15.

  4. I use my debit card infrequently, and only for online purchases, which do require a pin#. My account was hacked and emptied. Calls keep coming
    from an 800 service # claiming to be M&T Bank, seeking more account information. I was able to recoup the funds. Others may not be as fortunate. No agency seems to be able to track down who owns the 800#, as they all say that it’s too widespread. Am now afraid to use the (new) card. What’s needed is some form of bio-marker, or we are all perpetual victims.

  5. Well, I aslo learned how to get money from a debit card without a pin. All you do is just go to a local store and say oh “carp”, this is my sister’s card. Usually they will say “ok let me try this.” They will do something so you wont have to eneter a code. Thats it.

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