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Bank apps get debit ‘kill switch’

By Claes Bell ·
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

There are few things more panic-inducing than reaching for your wallet and realizing it's not there, and that it's very possible somebody is running around charging up designer clothes, prescriptions and tanks of gas on your debit cards.

A new feature for banks' smartphone apps may help avoid some of that panic by allowing users to "shut off" their debit card remotely. From Mary Wisniewski at Bank Technology News:

Detecting the varied consumer need for more card controls and the potential cost savings for the bank, several financial services companies have quietly launched (debit card controls) in recent months.

USAA, an innovation ringleader in the financial services industry, made a card on/off switch available to mobile members in October. Since debuting, it has become the most popular way USAA members temporarily block their debit cards.

As Wisniewski notes, banks are increasingly embracing the technology, seeing it as a win-win. Customers get the peace of mind that comes from greater control over their cards, and banks get to avoid footing the bill for fraud or constantly having to field calls from customers who've temporarily misplaced their wallets and then found them soon after.

Still, even with the ability to shut off a debit card, consumers shouldn't hesitate to notify their bank if they think their card has really gone missing. Many of the protections for consumers built into U.S. law are highly dependent on consumers providing timely notification to their bank that their card may be in the wrong hands. Your share of the losses from fraud is limited to $50 if you report the card stolen within two days of realizing it's gone. If you wait longer than that, your liability could rise to $500. After two months, it's essentially unlimited.

And, of course, don't expect a spouse to be happy if you switch off his or her debit card because they're spending money on stuff you don't like.

What do you think? Do you want a kill switch for your debit cards?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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April 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I think this would be great. In fact I would see this being a flexible app that could turn on the card when you are out and about. Turning it off when you are in for the day / evening. There is no reason there shouldn't be a "STOLEN WALLET" Function that has all your cards License data - that could be sent to all authorities and stop fraud much faster.