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Why it’s best to sign – and not use your PIN – for debit card purchases

April 02, 2015

By Paul Brucker

Did you know that you’re better protected when you use your signature – rather than your card’s Personal Identification Number (PIN) – to make purchases with your debit card?

Debit cards, like credit cards, can be vulnerable to data breaches. One security problem is skimming. Skimming takes place when thieves cleverly install a device in a point-of-purchase payment terminal that captures the information on your card’s magnetic stripe and also the PIN you type on the keyboard. And there other ways to hack security, such as the methods used by thieves to cause millions of credit and debit cards to be compromised at Home Depot and Target.

But what if the hacker doesn’t capture your PIN? If you used your Alliant Visa® Debit Card to make a purchase with a signature, you will be covered by Visa’s Zero Liability1 purchase protection benefit because signature transactions are processed on the Visa network. PIN transactions, however, are not processed on the Visa network and thus may not be covered by the Visa Zero Liability purchase protection benefit. 

Although this might sound a bit counterintuitive, here’s how to make signature purchases with your debit card: 

  1. If you are using a payment terminal yourself, swipe your card, then select the “credit” option when the terminal asks you to select debit or credit. You should not have to enter your PIN after selecting the credit option. Instead, you’ll either be prompted to sign on the terminal screen or you’ll get a paper receipt to sign. 
  2. If the cashier asks you whether you want credit or debit, say “credit,” but hand the clerk your debit card. The machine will then process a paper receipt for you to sign. 

Like with a PIN transaction, a signature transaction will be debited from your checking account. 

In sum, when it comes to making purchases with your debit card, there’s more protection when you sign than when you use your PIN.