Can You Track a Debit Card?

Article Summary:

Although there isn’t a way for consumers to track the exact location of a debit card, card issuers certainly have their ways to track your spending. This article will explain the purpose of smart chips or EMV chips and address a few ways that you can keep tabs on your credit card and debit card accounts. Finally, we will cover how to respond if you believe your debit card or credit card has been lost or stolen.

Smart chip technology is used in an increasing number of debit and credit cards. Banks have converted debit cards and credit cards from the magnetic strip to a smart chip. You may be aware that this is for increased security. But what do these new chips actually do? Can they help you track a debit card?

What is a smart chip or EMV chip?

The smart chip on a debit card or credit card is also called the EMV chip. It is the chip that you insert into a store’s point-of-sale machine to complete a transaction. EMV originally meant Europay, MasterCard, and Visa. But many other companies now use the same chip technology. This includes card companies such as American Express, Discover, JCB, and UnionPay.

Smart chips or EMV chips cannot be used as a debit card tracker

Unfortunately, the smart chip or EMV chip will not help you track the card. Instead, it helps secure your account and card information in a different way.

The chip’s function

The chip’s function is to improve the security of each transaction and make the card’s information more difficult to steal. In the past, the magnetic strip held the credit card or debit card number so you could make a purchase. At physical locations, each purchase transaction required the user to swipe the card. This process exposed the card’s data. Each transaction gave thieves the opportunity to copy the card’s number (and other information) at the point of sale.

How the smart chips work

An EMV chip works by protecting the card number from being stolen. Instead of exposing the card details, it creates a unique code for each purchase. This code, called a “cryptogram,” allows secure debit card validation during transactions.

These single-use codes cannot be tracked back to your account. In combination with PIN codes, they add a layer of security. So the debit card information is less likely to be copied. It is not possible to track the physical card itself because new digits are generated for each sale.

Key takeaways

  • The smart chip (EMV chip) is not used to help track cards.
  • The smart chips protect you by producing a unique card number (code) for each purchase. This means it doesn’t share all the account information for each sale.
  • The Visa Mobile Location Confirmation application can prevent having your card locked by the bank.
  • If a card is lost or stolen, it’s best to contact your bank immediately and put it on hold or have it replaced.
  • If you can’t reach your bank by phone, check your account activity online or through the mobile app as soon as possible.
  • Most banks give the option to turn cards off and back on both online and through their mobile app to prevent fraud.

How do banks track debit cards or credit cards?

Credit card companies do not design chips to track debit or credit cards. This is for the protection of the cardholder. A tracker chip would have enormous privacy implications. What if the credit or debit card tracking system were compromised? In that case, a non-cardholder could track the customer’s whereabouts.

So, how do issuers keep tabs on credit and debit cards? The bank typically uses several factors to determine if a purchase is legitimate, involving a range of variables. These include transaction amounts and merchant locations. Have you ever had a debit or credit card transaction declined while traveling? These transactions may have been declined based on merchant location. When you travel, you should notify your bank ahead of time. Otherwise, you may find yourself having to call your bank during your trip to get your card to work.

Each bank has different parameters for flagging suspicious activity. Many tend to use out-of-state purchases or foreign-country transactions as red flags. This can lock your account and require phone or text verification to confirm the card is not lost or stolen.

Visa Mobile Location Confirmation

Recently, Visa created a mobile app called Visa Mobile Location Confirmation. The mobile app allows Visa to track your location through your cell phone, letting the bank know you are physically in the same place where the transaction is happening. The app allows you to avoid account holds when using your card in new or unusual locations.

The trade-off with the app is that you are constantly sharing your location. You also need to have the phone with you while making transactions. That’s the only way to prevent having the card rejected when you shop.

This may be a deal-breaker for folks interested in more privacy. If that is you, I’ll explain a couple of options for what you might want to do if you suspect your card is lost or stolen.

Responding to lost or stolen debit cards and credit cards

Have you misplaced your debit card or credit card? Suppose you’re pretty sure the card hasn’t been stolen or left where someone else might find it. Should you search for it before calling your bank and reporting it lost?

The answer to this question is almost certainly “no.”

Call your bank sooner rather than later

Canceling your card and waiting for a new one may seem like a big hassle. But it’s almost always the safest course of action. It’s the best way to make sure you don’t end up liable for charges you didn’t make.

So, if you discover your debit card or credit card isn’t where it should be, contact your bank immediately. Don’t wait for unauthorized ATM withdrawals or fraudulent charges to appear. Instead, report the card’s status immediately to avoid issues with liability.

What if I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find my card?

Even if you believe that you will find your debit card or credit card, it’s still a great idea to call the bank. Canceling the card and waiting for a new one may not be your only option when you call. Most banks can place temporary holds on their accounts. They’ll usually be able to do this for both debit cards and credit cards.

The temporary hold will give you time to look for your card. If you can’t find it, you can go ahead and have the card canceled and replaced.

Calling your bank right away is particularly important with a debit card. A debit card draws funds from your checking account. The effect of this on your bank balance could cause checks to bounce or scheduled payments to fail. As well, it can be more complicated to reverse debit card charges than charges to a credit card.

By contacting the bank, you can share your situation. Bank staff can then stop new charges coming through on your account.

Calling bank customer service by phone is sometimes best. It lets you ask questions if you need to. It also lets you review recent transactions with the bank rep to make sure they’re yours.

A good second option would be to turn the card off, if your bank provides this option. You can turn off your card using your bank’s mobile app or by logging into your online account. Turning off the card ensures no one can make additional charges.

Can you track a credit card?

There is no way to track the physical location of your credit card or debit card. There is the option of using mobile apps that track your location if you are fine with giving up your privacy. However, credit cards do offer other perks, such as more generous rewards and better consumer and fraud protection.

Finding a lost or stolen credit card or debit card

So you’ve contacted your bank and arranged a temporary hold. Or you’ve turned your card off through your account dashboard online or your bank’s mobile app. Now all you have to do is find your card.

If you’ve lost a card, checking online or through your bank’s mobile app will help you retrace your steps. If you left it at a store or restaurant, someone might have found it and turned it in.

If the card has had additional transactions run on it, though, it’s likely been stolen.

In this instance, tracking the card down is not the optimal option. Assume you can find the card’s location through your transaction history. And assume you get to the merchant in time (some pending transactions don’t show for days). Confronting a thief puts your physical safety in jeopardy. In general, doing so will not lead to the best outcome. It’s best to report the theft and leave intervention to the authorities.

Even if you could get your card back by confronting the thief, you’d still end up having to cancel the card. Its number, expiration date, and CVV (Card Verification Value) code have been exposed. There’s always a risk the thief has recorded or passed along this information.

Note: With the right tools, you can minimize the damage caused by stolen information.

What if I think the debit card or credit card is lost for good?

Sometimes you know you won’t be able to find the card. If you haven’t had luck after looking for a while, have the bank replace it.

The replacement will come with a new number to protect your financial data. The new card information should show up in your mobile app and online account within a couple of days.

Replacement is generally the bank’s default solution. Was the card in a place where someone could save or share your contact or account information? If so, replacement is particularly preferred.

Thieves have ways to find more information using financial account details from stolen cards. This added information makes crimes that go beyond fraudulent card use possible. Identity theft is a noteworthy example. In response, banks follow rigid fraud-prevention procedures to protect customers. These make it more difficult for thieves.

In cases of ambiguity, banks will typically opt to replace your card. This is for the security of your sensitive information and money, as well as for the bank’s protection.

Stolen Cards

The biggest indicator that a card has been stolen is new transactions. New purchases that the cardholder does not recognize strongly suggest card theft. It is very important to report these as soon as possible, especially with a debit card.

Remember, there are differences in complexity for debit and credit accounts. It’s generally simpler to have charges reversed with a credit card.

Search your account history and check your recent transactions. Be sure to make a note of the date of anything that you don’t remember or that doesn’t look right.

Be aware that sometimes a merchant uses a different name on statements. You can ask your banker to check for additional information. The information listed with the transaction may be able to provide more context.

Bankers can see when the transaction happened. Sometimes they can also see a related phone number linked in their system.

Conclusion

As of now, there is no way to physically track debit or credit cards. Their smart chips will help protect your information, but they aren’t made to locate the card. That said, there are options like the Visa Mobile Location Confirmation app. These options come with the trade-off of giving up some privacy.

If a card is lost or stolen, a replacement can be a better option than tracking the card down. If the card has been left at a business or elsewhere, its information has been exposed and may be recorded. So it will need to be replaced for security, even if you do find it. Always report lost cards as soon as possible to avoid liability for fraud charges.

Article Sources & Additional Reading
  1. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Using Debit Cards — SuperMoney
  2. EMVCo Members — EMVCo
  3. EMVCo the Basics — EMVCo
  4. EMV: What it is, why it’s important, and what do I need to know? EMV Basics for Merchants — Vantiv, LLC, via U.S. Treasury Bureau of Fiscal Service
  5. What Are the Advantages of a Debit Card? — SuperMoney
  6. What is a Credit Card CVV? And 9 Other Credit Card Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask — SuperMoney