credit cards

Did Sony hackers expose your card data?

A debit card offers more limited fraud protection. Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, if you report a check or debit card missing before any bogus transactions are made, the issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges. However, if you don't report the loss within two business days of discovering the loss of the card, you could be liable for up to $500 in unauthorized charges, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you don't report the loss within 60 days after the bank statement containing the fraudulent transactions is mailed to you, you face unlimited losses.

When fraud involves only the debit card number and not the loss of the card itself, "you are liable only for transfers that occur after 60 days following the mailing of your bank statement containing the unauthorized use and before you report the loss," the FTC's website states.

Many banks and credit unions also offer some protection from liability for debit card fraud, though again, prompt notification is crucial to avoid losses.

Online security tips

The Sony incident could be a wake-up call for people who've used devices with little thought of the risks. Essentially, any device that connects to the Internet and uses personal or financial data creates some exposure. That includes everything from handheld games that use a wireless, or Wi-Fi, network to smartphones, Foley says.

Consequently, consumers should take precautions when using these devices. Here are some suggestions:

  • Beef up passwords. Create different single-use passwords for websites that require personal or financial data and change the passwords often, especially if a service has been compromised.
  • Create unique answers to password questions. Answers to secret questions, like the name of your hometown newspaper, childhood best friend or first pet, are among the most sensitive data because these factoids can be used to reset your password and take control of the account. Whenever possible, vary or create customized questions and answers.
  • Avoid using debit cards online. Always use a credit card online because credit cards offer much better protection from fraud and don't enable criminals to empty your bank account the way debit cards do.

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