How to Use a Contactless Debit Card Safely

A woman has a surprised look on her face as she holds up her credit card and points at it with a light blue background behind her.

Contactless debit cards let you make purchases by tapping a payment terminal. This form of payment gives you a faster checkout experience, but is it safe, and how do you shield your information from fraudsters?

As the use of contactless debit and credit cards increases in the United States, you may want to know more about the security features of this payment method. Read on to learn how contactless debit cards work, why they're safer than magnetic stripe card payments and how to protect your information from fraudsters.

How Do Contactless Debit Cards Work?

Contactless debit cards are similar to mobile wallets: You can make purchases without swiping your card, inserting it into a card reader or handing your card to a cashier. Instead, you tap or hold your card up to the card reader to make a purchase, and the amount is debited from your bank account.

These cards use radio-frequency identification (RFID) to sync with card readers, authenticate your card data and approve or deny the transaction. Each transaction is encrypted and uses a one-time code or password to secure your card data. Doing so prevents fraudsters from cloning the card since they won't have information such as your name, billing address or three-digit CVV code on the back of the card.

The average processing time for contactless card transactions is much shorter than inserting your card into a chip reader or swiping it, offering a convenient option when you're on the go.

How Safe Is a Contactless Debit Card?

Unlike making an online or phone payment where you need to provide your name, CVV code and ZIP code, contactless debit cards use touchless one-time encryption to read and transmit your data to your credit card company. Making payments this way is as safe as using a chip card and more secure than magnetic stripe payments, which can fall victim to skimming or shimming scams.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, contactless debit cards have provided an additional measure of safety for those who prefer to reduce their amount of physical contact while shopping. An April 2020 Mastercard study showed a spike in contactless payment usage globally between February and March of that year as the pandemic took hold.

Still have reservations about the technology or prefer not to use the contactless feature? You can continue to use your contactless debit card by inserting it into a chip card reader or swiping it at the payment terminal.

How to Protect Your Contactless Card

Although contactless debit cards offer an added layer of security, you can and should take additional steps to protect your account information. Enable card security features, such as real-time purchase notifications and fraud alerts, to say on top of account activity. Also, use the card lock feature (if available) if your card is stolen or misplaced.

Here are more tips to keep the account tied to your contactless debit card safe:

  • Avoid using odd-looking payment terminals
  • Review your account activity regularly to ensure transactions are valid
  • Report suspicious or fraudulent transactions to your card issuer immediately
  • Contact your bank or credit union promptly if your card is lost or stolen

If your card is compromised, contact your bank or credit union right away. Many offer zero-liability protection for unauthorized or fraudulent transactions. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act also limits your losses to $50 if you contact your debit card issuer within two business days of learning about the theft or loss of your card. However, you could be on the hook for $500 if you report the theft more than two business days after discovering it occurred but fewer than 60 days after receiving your statement.

Is There a Daily Limit on Contactless Debit Card Transactions?

Some card issuers cap the amount of daily purchases, and others don't. You may also be prompted to enter a PIN if you exceed a set number of transactions in a day or initiate an ATM transaction. Check with your bank for details.

If you travel abroad, the card issuer could also impose daily transaction limits or require you to enter a PIN for purchases. Often, a credit card that doesn't charge transaction fees for international purchases is a better choice.

Protect Your Money With a Contactless Debit Card

Don't yet have a contactless debit card? If you're interested, contact your bank or credit union and request an upgraded debit card with contactless payment capabilities.

You can also get a contactless credit card with zero-liability protection to make secure purchases. Use Experian CreditMatch™ to get matched with credit card offers based on your credit profile.