Data Breach - The Best Defense is Vigilance
There have been several high-profile data breaches impacting millions of consumers in the past year. And along with the details come the constant reminder to be vigilant. Consumer security expert Gerry Egan says awareness is key, but so is understanding what the thieves are after, so you can make it harder for them to win.
Egan answers some commonly asked questions about shopping and credit card safety:
So what is being stolen and how is it being used?
In point of sale (POS) breaches, thieves are stealing your 16-digit credit card numbers. Those numbers are most useful to thieves (and most harmful to you) in the geographical area near where you live. They can take those numbers, attach them to magnetic strips on different cards, and use them in brick & mortar stores. As long as those stores are located in zip codes where you usually shop, the transaction won’t raise any red flags.
It’s more difficult for stolen credit card information to be used online, because most retailers have authentication procedures that require expiration dates, billing zip codes and card verification values (cvv). Still, fraudulent online purchases are possible. So keep tabs on your monthly card statements, because the threats are still out there.
If my credit card information is stolen, is my identity next?
Identity thieves need your date of birth, social security number and other information before they can launch significant fraud. That’s not information typically shared during a POS transaction. The missing pieces of your identity won’t be there to go on a rampage under your name.
What can I do to stay safe?
Stay alert. The law is on your side, so use your protection. Anti-fraud laws protect you from being responsible for purchases you didn’t make. Ultimately, credit card companies want your business, so they will also work with you to track fraudulent purchases. All you have to do is stay alert. Check your credit card statement every month. It’s common for thieves to hold on to stolen credit card numbers. That means it could be months before they actually make a purchase. Reporting strange or fraudulent activity as soon as you notice it helps banks help you get your money back.
Should I just use my debit card?
You can use any payment method you want. The risk adjusts accordingly. Obviously carrying large amounts of cash comes with one set of risks. The same can be said for debit cards. The numbers attached to the magnetic strip on your debit card work the same as those attached to your credit cards. If those numbers are stolen, thieves can make the same fraudulent purchases. The only difference is that the money will come from your personal checking or savings account. That’s money you won’t be able to use for rent, mortgage, tuition or other bill payments.
Credit card data breaches are viruses that attack the POS terminals in stores. While stores do encrypt and transfer that data, there remain small opportunities for thieves to get your information. Businesses and credit card companies are constantly working to mitigate these risks, but change takes time.
“Be aware,” says Egan. “Live your life, but be aware. If you see something unusual call your bank.”
Danie D. Taylor is an Emmy ® Award winning journalist, content producer and blogger based in San Francisco.
Here is a resource for business owners who want to learn more about protecting your POS environment.