Around this time last year, hackers pulled off what was then one of the largest retail data breaches the industry has seen. They unleashed Backoff malware on computer networks that have now reportedly attacked thousands of retailers’ point-of-sale systems. The largest victim then was Target, from which hackers stole millions of credit and debit card numbers.
So what can you do to keep your identity safe during this busy time of year? Follow a few simple tips to build smart habits, for now and into the new year.
1. Consider carefully before using a debit card.
Although debit cards help shoppers to not overspend on unexpected purchases, they are tied directly to your checking account. These funds can be a little harder to recover, and they provide hackers with even more information about you through your bank. Consider using checks or cash instead, even if they hold up the line for a few seconds longer. Or use a credit card—preferably one that rewards you with points or other bonuses so you benefit from your shopping—and then pay the bill electronically each day.
2. A little planning goes a long way.
By having one credit card with little or no balance that has a secure bank associated with it, you are limiting exposure to any hacking attempts. The fewer cards you use, the less potential for releasing multiple account numbers. As an added bonus, it can help you out when it comes time to balancing the bills and tracking what you’ve spent.
3. Keep your guard up.
It’s also important to be aware of who is lurking in the background while you pay at the register. Avoid stopping to check your bank or credit card balance from a mobile device while you’re out shopping, as you would be accessing your financial data over a potentially unsecured Wi-Fi connection.
When you pay at a store or restaurant, make sure you can see your card at all times. If you ever cannot see your card, there’s a possibility that the employee is making a copy of it. This is why it’s always a good idea to pay on your way out of a restaurant instead of sending the card with the server, and why you shouldn’t let a retail employee walk away with your card on the pretense of having to use a different register to ring you up.
The most important thing you can do, though, is something that consumers really should do all year long: monitor your credit reports and your financial statements. Watch these documents for suspicious activity, and report anything out of the ordinary to your financial institution. If you have reason to believe your accounts have been compromised, consider placing a freeze or alert on your credit report to prevent thieves from opening new lines of credit.
These tips should help keep you safer during this busy time of year, and allow you to focus on enjoying the holiday season.