« Back to articlePrint this article

5 signs your debit card is at risk

Last updated on: January 09, 2019 08:50 IST

If your debit card suddenly stops working or you receive alerts for transactions you haven't done, chances are your card is compromised, says Niranjankumar Upadhye.

Illustration by Uttam Ghosh/

Signs your debit card is at risk

Your debit card is technically called a 'Deposit Access Product.'

There is essentially a deposit linked to the card, most commonly a savings or a current account. Thus, for fraudsters, a debit card is the key to ready cash!

They can use it at ATMs locally or internationally to actually bleed you of our hard-earned money, or it can be used at a Point-of-Sale machine to make purchases of goods that can usually be readily sold off at an attractive discount --  finally getting the fraudster money.

Fraudsters needed two elements before January 1 2019 : The data on the magnetic stripe of your debit card, and your PIN.

These details were easy to obtain.

Skimmers -- devices that would read the magnetic stripe of your card -- were used to get details from the magnetic strip on your card.

This is possible when you let someone else handle/swipe the card for you -- for example at a petrol pump, or a restaurant.

A criminal or an accomplice would use a skimmer just before or after making a legitimate transaction at a POS machine, before returning the card to you.

They would also 'shoulder surf' the PIN as you entered it at the POS machine.

Armed with both these, they would produce cloned cards.

Another variant of the scheme involved fixing skimmers at the ATM card acceptance slot to read the magnetic stripe of the card, and a camera or a keypad overlay to capture the key-strokes as you entered your PIN.

Fraudsters’ party at the ATM will slowly come to an end after the Reserve Bank of India along with the Card Schemes (MasterCard/ NPCI/Visa) mandated that the ATMs shift to reading Chip-and-PIN (instead of the erstwhile situation when ATMs read the magstripe, even of a Chip-and-PIN card ) on and after January 1, 2019.

As debit cards are mostly used at ATMs, it has now become next to impossible for the fraudsters to effectively clone a debit card for subsequent misuse.

Mind you, the chip is impossible to break/ compromise in a commercially viable manner with today’s technology.

However, it is envisaged that your debit cards could still be used for frauds at ATMs that are not Chip-and-PIN compliant yet, or for online transactions at internet / remote payment merchants who do not support second factor authentication.

Fraudsters will still try to steal your card data through innovative techniques.

Here are some tips for you to stay alert:

1. Bonanza Schemes

At a mall,or crowded public place you may find a kiosk with some bank officers running 'Debit Card Usage Promotion' campaign.

Sometimes, they bring you an exciting offer and may ask you to swipe your debit card at a POS machine and make a one rupee transaction using your PIN.

You may be promised a coupon on the spot for Rs 500 for an ice-cream parlor in the same mall!

The POS print may look like a legitimate charge-slip. You may even receive the coupon to be redeemed at the parlour.

A few days later you may find cash withdrawal debits from ATMs abroad or from anywhere in India.

By luring you with a Rs 500 ice cream coupon, fraudsters stole your card credentials through a skimmer and PIN logger bundled together to look like a POS machine.

2. Unexpected phone calls/ E-mails/ SMSes

If someone pretending to be your bank wants to solicit your card/ account/ personal and confidential information, they will try to snare you by advising or threatening you that unless you immediately confirmed some details, your account will be blocked or debit card cancelled.

Do not fall for this trick.

You must immediately call the phonebanking number published by the bank (printed on the back of your card or on your account statement) to verify such solicitations.

3. Small amount debits/ credits from merchants

If you get a small amount debits/ credits from merchants that you do not identify or were not expecting ( especially in fractions, not a rounded amount), be wary as this could be a  test transaction carried out by fraudsters to see if they get a success message on a compromised card.

If you do not alert your bank or block your card, sooner or later, they will try a high value transaction to bleed you.

If you have still not figured out why you got the message for a fractional amount, it’s because the fraudsters transacted 1 unit of their home currency, which when converted into Indian currency, got posted in your account as fractional or unusual amount.

So if you saw a transaction from a Chinese Merchant for INR 10.237, it’s because the rogue merchant in China tried your card for one Chinese Yuan, which is approximately the value you saw charged to your card, in rupees !

4. Trash-hunting/ Dumpster diving

Be careful if you find your postal mails/ bank and financial statements intercepted, pilfered or tampered with or lying about your premises before you received those or after you discarded them.

Fraudsters may have been trying to glean your financial details to masquerade as if they were you.

This is their first step toward identity/account take-over.

The potential victim could be you or your family.

Always collect your mail regularly; don’t let your postal mailbox overflow.

If you are away for long, have a neighbour or someone trustworthy clear it for you. Remember to shred the financial records and bank statements that you no longer need.

5. Your debit card does not work suddenly

This may be because fraudsters have managed to get a replacement card issued in your name, but diverted it to their address.

Be wary if your existing card gets blocked and won't work.

Be smart and safe. Call up your bank to see if all is well!

Niranjankumar Upadhye is general manager, fraud risk management division at Worldline India.

Niranjankumar Upadhye