Another day, another big retail chain, this time Michael’s, announced that its customer credit card numbers and personal information have fallen into the hands of hackers.
Investigators are currently tracking hundreds of complaints of fraudulent credit card charges, including the infamous $9.84 bogus charge. It’s likely the thousands of complaints would turn into hundreds of thousands if more people checked their bills more carefully, but a low-dollar charge like that could easily slip by a busy family.
The frustrating element of these large data breaches is that many of them are the result of well-known hacks. Visa warned retailers about the hack used on terminals at Target twice in the months prior to the data breach, yet the store did nothing to bolster their defenses. If you’re looking for a reason why these incidents keep happening, you can blame corporate downsizing; there just aren’t enough warm bodies to have time to deal with issues like data security. Since these incidents are likely to keep happening — and there’s no accountability for stores when they lose your data — protecting yourself is the only realistic option.
Rotate Card Numbers Every Three Years
One of the simplest ways to protect yourself is get a new credit card number every three years. The more you use a name and number combination, the more likely it’s going to turn up in a target list for sale on a hacker board. Many people don’t like this option because they have recurring payments set up on particular cards, and new card number means updating all of them. Think of it as an opportunity to review those automatic payments periodically, to see if you still really need them.
Sign Your New Card Immediately
An unsigned credit card is an economic disaster waiting to happen, and signing the back of your card goes a long way in reducing the risk of unauthorized use. What most people don’t know is that losing an unsigned credit card can negate many of the protections you have from fraudulent use.
Check Your Accounts Daily
Check your accounts every day for the slightest hint of unauthorized use. It’s far better to have to apologize to your bank over an authorized charge than to neglect timely reporting of a fraudulent charge. In these days of the Internet, it’s really not that difficult to find a few minutes to check over your charges.
Consider Freezing Your Credit Reports
This is a bold step, and it’s mainly for people who don’t plan on opening a new line of credit. You can have the major credit bureaus freeze your credit reports, which makes it nearly impossible for anyone to open a new line of credit in your name. If you want to open a new line of credit, you first have to lift the freeze. It doesn’t stop any of your current lenders from checking on you, but it is a powerful tool to prevent fraud.
Check Your Credit Report Every Year
The website to use to get your free annual credit report is Annual Credit Report. Anything else is a service trying to sell you credit monitoring. Check your credit reports every year, and dispute any inaccuracies.
These simple steps won’t make you hacker-proof, but they will put you out ahead of 90% of the pack. When you’re running from a bear, those are pretty good odds.