Business Beat: Outsmarting the hackers

02/22/2014 5:06 PM

02/22/2014 5:07 PM

It’s one of those terms most people probably weren’t familiar with a couple of years ago, but they seem to know now: “data breach.”

With recent reports of hackers gaining access to customers’ credit and debit card information at retailers such as Target and Michaels, it seems as if everyone has been touched, or knows someone who has. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a group of high school students here at The Modesto Bee, and I asked them how many had problems after Target’s system was hacked late last year. It’s safe to say the majority of them raised their hands.

It made me wonder if cash will make a comeback among shoppers. At the very least, people should be paying close attention to their debit and credit card balances, and be wary of any unusual charges. Fortunately, technology in the manner of mobile banking and bank apps for our phones makes it easy to keep track of accounts.

Here are some tips, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau:

• Monitor your credit card statements carefully (go online; don’t wait for the paper statement).
• If you see a fraudulent charge, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately so the charge can be reversed and a new card issued.
• Keep receipts in case you need to prove which charges you authorized and which you did not.

Experts say it’s better to shop with a credit card than a debit card, because at least if someone accesses your information, he or she hasn’t gotten into – and drained – your bank account. But not everyone has credit cards, or wants to use them regularly. If you shop with a debit card, the BBB recommends you “pay very careful attention to your account, as debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards, and debit transactions withdraw funds directly from your bank account. Contact your bank for more information, or if you want to pre-emptively request a new debit card or put a security block on your account.”

That said, many banks do have protections for their customers, whether or not their information is compromised. Both my husband and I, who have different banks (long story), got warnings and new cards from our respective financial institutions as a precautionary measure. And we haven’t used our cards at Target lately; our son attends a school that uses a scrip system, so most of my spending is done using such cards.

Since many of us now do much of our shopping online, the BBB also issued some general cautionary tips for electronic purchases:

• Check before you click. Phishing emails may attempt to fool you into providing your credit card information or ask you to click on a link or open an attachment that can download malware designed to steal your identity.
• Don’t click on any email links or attachments unless you are absolutely certain the sender is authentic.

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