Many people have taken to using debit cards in order to keep themselves from overspending and racking up a lot of credit card debt. It’s a great idea, to be sure, but the problem is that these same people also believe that their debit card gives them as much protection as their credit card and, in some cases, that just isn’t correct.

If you use a debit card regularly, the dangers explained below aren’t extreme but you definitely should know about them, and know how to avoid them. Enjoy.

First, you definitely need to know that if someone steals your private information and is able to use your debit card, there’s no guarantee that the money they stole will be replaced. It gets even worse if you wait too long to report fraudulent activity, even if federal law says that you’re only liable for the first $50 of any fraudulent charges.

The fact is, you have basically 2 days to report those charges and, even if you report them less than 60 days after you receive your statement, you can still be held accountable for up to $500 in losses. After 60 days there are, unfortunately, no limits to how much you will be responsible for repaying on your own.

Another problem is that, even if you are successful in getting all of your money back, it won’t happen quickly and it might not even happen for 1 or 2 weeks, sometimes more. The reason is simply this; your bank needs to investigate the fraudulent charges fully before they issue any refunds to your account, and that takes time.

Even though the law requires that the bank must put your money back after 10 business days, that means you could be looking at not having those funds available for up to 11  business days, or over two weeks, which for many people might cause some financial hardship. If you live “paycheck to paycheck” and need that $300 or $400 that was fraudulently charged, you could be in trouble.

Yes, some banks might get it to you sooner but, depending on your situation, even having to wait 1 or 2 days might cause you quite a headache.

Below are a number of ways that you can protect yourself, your debit card and your bank account.

  • Use credit cards whenever possible. The fact is, when it comes to fraud detection, they are simply better than debit cards. If you pay your card off in full every month there’s really no difference in the amount of money you will spend.
  • Check your bank statement very regularly. Most people check their Facebook or other social media accounts several times a day, so why not do the same with your banking? Even if you only check it two or three times a week you could well spot fraudulent activity before it becomes a huge problem.
  • Check with your bank to determine the liability on your debit card. If they aren’t prepared to refund any fraudulent charges within 1 to 2 days of reporting the problem, you might want to open a second, unconnected account with some emergency money to cover you just in case.

At the end of the day the fact is that the only person who really cares about your money is you. Whether you are using a debit or credit card, you need to be vigilant and check frequently to make sure that some dirtbag hasn’t accessed your account and begun to spend your hard-earned money.