Consumers have been bombarded with news of cyber security attacks at well-known retail stores such as Target, Michaels and Neiman Marcus. They are concerned about their personal information and are left to wonder what can be done to protect themselves.
In addition to Target and Neiman Marcus, one can easily find like items in the news almost daily:
- At the end of February Brazilian hackers were threatening to disrupt the World Cup with attacks ranging from jamming websites to data theft.
- Guests at certain Marriott, Holiday Inn, Sheraton and other hotel properties were at risk of theft after a hacking late last year that was uncovered in 2014. Possible theft by the cyber theft included names and numbers on consumers’ debit or credit cards, security codes and card expiration dates.
– Michaels Stores, a major arts and crafts retailer, said in January it was investigating a possible security breach on its payment card network and advised customers. The chain suffered a similar incident in 2011.
Here are some steps consumers should take to protect their financial accounts:
– Check your bank statement and credit card accounts regularly.
Don’t just look at the “large” transactions; pay attention to the small charges. Those could be a thief checking to see if the account is still active. If you spot a transaction that you did not make, contact your bank immediately.
Sometimes the small charges that we have get overlooked, but they can add up. If you see anything on your statement that doesn’t look familiar invest 30 minutes in tracking it down. It may be legitimate but it’s your account.
- Change the PIN number on your debit card.
This is a step lot of people will resist because they don’t want the hassle. And a lot of people feel they already have enough trouble remembering their current PIN. If this is the case for you spend some time coming up with some new PIN numbers. Try and recall some events in your life that you can assign numbers to so you’ll be prepared when you want/need to make a change.
- Don’t give out your card number or personal information on the phone or via email unless you have initiated the correspondence.
Make it a rule not to click any link you receive in your email. It’s amazing the number of smart people who still get sucked in by the bad guys cold calling or spamming. Keep in mind that these people are trying to scam you and worked hard on their schemes. They hone their message to make it seem like the real thing. If you have any doubts, bail.
- Check your credit report.
Make sure there are no new accounts that have been opened in your name. Also, check to see if there have been any major changes in your credit score. This can be a sign of identity theft. It’s amazing how many people have no idea what’s happening with their credit accounts. Likewise, there are far too many people who don’t want the hassle of keeping up with such. Trust me, it’s a bigger hassle to straighten out a boatload of bogus charges.
- Change the passwords on your financial accounts.
Much like PIN numbers a lot of people groan when they get this advice but it’s worth the effort. Spend some time thinking of some possible password combinations. You’ll be surprised how many you can come up with.
If your account has been compromised, you can place a free fraud alert on your credit report which makes it difficult for a thief to open up a new account in your name.
- Consider a credit freeze.
This makes it necessary for you to approve the release of any information by the three credit reporting agencies.