What happens if someone steals your debit card number?

Written by eric novinson
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What happens if someone steals your debit card number?
(George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Debit card numbers are directly linked to a person's bank account, making them a target of thieves. A debit card includes security features that will stop the thief from performing some transactions with the card number alone. Many banks will call debit card owners if there is suspicious activity on the card, but individuals need to be aware of their responsibilities if a card number is stolen.

Personal Identification Number

If a debit card user makes a purchase at a store, many retailers require the user to enter a four-digit code known as a PIN, or personal identification number, to ensure the rightful owner is using the card. According to the Department of Agriculture, many online merchants do not use the debit card PIN for online purchases to protect the buyer, since it is possible for hackers to intercept and record the PIN. The bank that issues the debit card may allow the user to not authorise online purchases because of the risk.

Security Code

Another security feature is available when the debit card user makes a purchase with only the debit card number. On the back of a debit card, there is a three-digit security code. A website may ask the debit card user to enter this code, since someone who has the debit card number alone will not have the code, while someone who actually owns the card can flip it over and look at the back.

Extra Protection

Transactions that involve the theft of a debit card number receive additional protections that purchases with the actual card do not get. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if a thief steals the actual debit card, the holder is responsible for all purchases if the holder does not report the theft within 60 days. When the thief steals only the debit card number, the card holder has 60 days after receiving a bank statement that lists charges the thief made to report the loss without becoming liable.

Merchant Risk

When the debit card holder is not liable for a charge, he can reverse the charge, eliminating the loss for the card owner. The merchant then loses all income from the sale made with the stolen debit card number. The bank does not reimburse the debit card holder or the merchant for the unauthorised purchase. The merchant would have to recover money from the thief.


A thief can record the debit card number without stealing the card itself. Thieves place devices known as skimmers at gas stations, ATMs and other locations where many debit card users withdraw money, according to the state of Ohio. The skimmer will capture the debit card number and the machine will give the debit card back, leaving the owner unaware that the number has been stolen until the owner checks his bank account balance or receives a bank statement.

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