Unless you’ve been on vacation in a land far, far away you have probably heard about the massive data breach at Target stores. It appears that around 40,000,000 customers (that is not a typo) may have been the victims of a massive data mining operation in which credit and debit card information was stolen. This is the largest data breach of 2013 and in the top 10 of all time. Target stores have seen an immediate impact in reduced holiday sales and the damage to their public image is substantial.
Target was obviously the victim of a well coordinated high-tech cyber attack. They were the not first business to suffer a data breach and will certainly not be the last. Cyber attacks, phishing scams and fraudulent websites are big business and cost the US economy up to $100 billion yearly – and that figure continues to grow. Businesses large and small need to be aware of their responsibility to protect customer data and take appropriate steps to secure networks and payment processing systems. Business owners should also strongly consider purchasing data breach or cyber liability coverage.
But what about consumers? What steps can be taken to prevent, as much as possible, the loss of your personal information? We’ve come up with a few tips to help you ensure your personal information is as safe as possible.
First, you should know that online shopping is safe. Or, is at least no more dangerous than shopping locally. It’s true your credit card information being transmitted digitally across the internet and with that comes a degree of risk. However, any reputable online merchant will use the latest in digital encryption that makes hacking very unlikely. Make sure you are shopping from reputable merchants and that the website uses “https” in the URL at checkout. Also look for a digital security certificate and other online credentials that assures the website is secure.
Check Your Statements
Many of us use our credits cards for dozens of weekly transactions, racking up points or cash back in the process. All those transactions can make for a confusing monthly statement with lots and lots of similar looking charges. As tedious as the process can be, you should be reconciling those charges with purchase receipts frequently to make sure the charges are legitimate. A clever identify thief knows they can slip in a few charges here and there and a busy cardholder may never notice.
Consider an ID Theft Insurance Plan
The reality is that at some point, you will likely have your identity stolen. It might be a simple fix – cancel a few credit cards, notify the credit bureaus, move on with life. Or, it might be a full out assault on your identity with fraudulent accounts opened, debt collectors calling and your credit score suffering. An ID theft protection plan might help pay the expenses associated with restoring your credit and dealing with creditors. There are many plans available and we recommend looking closely at the coverage offered. You may also find that your homeowner insurance offers some level of ID theft coverage.