By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –– Almost every consumer has been asked the question, credit or debit? But how many of us really stop and think before we swipe that card? 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan finds that the wrong choice could make you vulnerable and leave your money more at risk.

It’s a decision most of us make in a second — a cashier asks if we want to pay with credit or debit. Budget-conscious consumers may be inclined to say debit, taking only from funds in the bank and avoiding overspending and interest. But a debit card also gives direct access to your money. Claes Bell from says, “Say if you do get hit with fraud, you know, that thief is going to make a lot of purchases, and empty out your checking account. Now, you’ll get your money back eventually if you report it on time, but the problem is, while you’re waiting to get your money back, you don’t have money to cover your bills”.

Debit transactions that can be vulnerable include using the card at gas pumps, outdoor and stand-alone ATM’s, all of them can be prime for scams involving skimmers. Transactions that take your card out of sight, like at a restaurant, could pose a risk too. As does shopping online, where malware or spyware could put financial information at risk. In these cases using a credit card may be best. According to Bell, “There’s stronger protections on credit cards for consumers. Your maximum liability under federal law is $50 dollars regardless of how much fraud someone conducts on your credit card.”

Regardless of which option you choose, be on the lookout for fraud, by checking your account activity on a regular basis. If you’re using a debit card, you should be checking your account daily online, that way you can be sure there aren’t any unauthorized debits or withdrawals. After all, a lot of damage can be done if someone gets access to your account and you want to be able to catch it sooner than later.

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