Hack Me Not: Tips for Preventing Personal Data Breaches

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Recent data breaches at major retailers have demonstrated that no one is off limits from hackers. With most people these days shopping online with credit or debit cards and hackers targeting large companies, it’s hard to stop them from getting your sensitive financial and personal information. But let’s not be complacent about the issue. There are measures you can take to reduce the sting of hackers getting your personal data or from committing identity theft. We’ll also provide some tips and safety measures to make your online use safer.

First, let’s explain how credit cards work. Your card has a lot of information that can be used to verify its authenticity: an expiration date, a three-digit security number and your name. In addition, there’s a magnetic stripe that has all that information and more. When you swipe the card, your information is transmitted to a third party, who then verifies with your bank that all your information is correct and the transaction is approved.

Other methods verify authenticity, but not every merchant uses them, such as checking your signature or asking for ID. Also, if you’re making an online purchase, you may be asked for the three-digit number on the back of the card called the card verification value, or CVV. Merchants aren’t allowed to store your CVV in their databases, to keep it secure from hackers. They may ask you for it, just to prove that you have the physical card. Unfortunately, America is said to lag behind other countries in credit card security measures by using magnetic stripes to hold our security data, whereas other countries use EMV chips, which use a different and more secure method of encrypting data. While magnetic stripes have the same encryption method, the method for EMV chips varies, making them harder to hack. The United Kingdom began using the EMV method in the 2000s and saw fraud drop by 63 percent between 2004 and 2010, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The United States is moving closer to EMV usage, but isn’t there yet.

But there’s good news. While credit card fraud is a hassle to deal with, for the most part you’re not liable if someone hacks you. By law, you’ll never be on the hook for more than $50 if a thief uses your card. You’re also not liable for purchases made after you report the card lost or stolen. Finally, many credit cards offer zero-liability policies that provide even better protection than the law requires.

There are safety measures you can take to avoid being hacked and actions you can take if you are the victim of hackers. Here are some ways to protect yourself from fraud.
• Don’t furnish credit card information unless absolutely necessary.
• Create an effective firewall system in your computer.
• Pay with cash; the surest way to prevent your credit or debit card being stolen is to avoid using plastic.
• Avoid debit card use, especially during holiday seasons, and particularly if the card’s tied directly to your checking account.
• Sign up for text and email alerts. You can customize alerts so that you’re notified of any and all transactions tied to your accounts.
• Use a card with a computer chip. If you have to use a credit card but you want to be safe, use one that has the new EMV computer chip and shop at stores that only use this new technology.
• Change your online banking password on a regular basis.
• Don’t give personal information to companies that contact you with special offers.
• Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN number.
• Leave your debit card home when you don’t plan to use it throughout the day.
• Shred anything associated with your account as soon as you finish using it. This includes statements, receipts, and other items.
• Cancel your credit or debit card immediately if it’s lost or stolen.
• If you’re told you’re in a data breach, tell the company you want a NEW card immediately or close the account. Also, call each of the three main credit bureaus and request that your credit be frozen. Freezing prevents access to your credit report without your approval.
• Order your credit reports. You get one free credit report per year–take advantage of this. Ideally you should order one every four months.
• Be smart about passwords. Select strong passwords (combinations of numbers and letters) and change them frequently.
• Be wary of making online purchases on a public Wi-Fi connection. These are easy to hack. Recent news reports even describe Wi-Fi networks set up by hackers to lure users.
• Make sure you sign the back of your credit card. If you don’t, fraud liability might be higher.
• When making online purchases from your computer or phone, make sure the web address starts with “https://” instead of “http://.” HLM

Sources: bostonglobe.com, cardhub.com, Cleveland.com, combofix.org, ehow.com, investopedia.com and money.usnews.com, nasdaqomx.com.