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Ways to Minimize Your Exposure to a Retail Data Breach


No one likes to think their payment information may be at risk when shopping at their favorite data breach.jpg
retailers. You trust your payment information is secure. Unfortunately, data breaches at the register and the security risks they bring with them are becoming a more frequent occurrence. Experts warn
it is unlikely data heists caused by malicious software attached to cash registers will end anytime soon. So, what are you to do when it comes to protecting yourself from having your credit or debit card information stolen?  Here are some tips to minimize your vulnerability. 

Signature vs. PIN

When paying with a debit card, sign for your purchase instead of keying in your PIN (personal identification number). Since your debit card is linked to your bank account and requires a PIN to access funds, you run the risk of someone emptying your account at an ATM or making a copy-cat card to use at retailers should your debit card information be taken. By not using your PIN you remove the opportunity for would-be thieves to steal it. To sign for your purchase, ask the cashier to process your card as “credit” (or you can select “credit” on the card machine yourself). The “signature method” allows the system to bypass the need for your PIN.

If it has been a while since you changed your PIN, you may want to consider doing so now. Use a PIN that cannot be traced back to your public information. For example, don’t use the last four digits of your phone number or your birth year.

Pay For Purchases Using New Technology

When shopping in-store, take advantage of newer technology that does not require you to use your debit or credit card at the payment terminal. When you swipe your card the information is stored in the retailer’s history, making it the perfect target for hackers. Instead, try PayPal, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. The technology behind these alternate forms of payment doesn’t require you to swipe a card at the register, therefore, your information is not saved. The downside is that these new payment forms are just starting to catch on with brick-and-mortar stores.

Another option is to use a pre-paid card or mobile app. Pre-paid cards have a specific dollar value programmed into them. They are safer because they do not expose your account information at the register.

Cash Method

When it comes to protecting your debit card information – or any other payment card that contains sensitive financial information − the safest method of payment is cash. It may be a slight inconvenience, but compared to the hassle of dealing with stolen information and fraud it is a small sacrifice. Even as retail security gets stronger, hackers are likely to figure out a way around it. The safest route is to avoid swiping a card at all.

After the Breach

  1. Look Out for suspicious phishing emails. After a security breach, you need to be vigilant about protecting your financial information. As news of retail security breaches spread, scammers send emails claiming to offer free credit monitoring. NEVER CLICK ON ANY LINK emailed to you under the pretext of offering credit protection and asking for personal information. Instead, visit the retailer’s site directly and look for updates about the breach. If credit monitoring is offered to victims, instructions (and a link) will be provided on the retailer’s site.

It is important to note if you are affected by a data breach, you are more likely to receive a letter from the  retailer by mail rather than an email.

  1. Watch your monthly account statement(s). After a data breach, spend time each month reviewing your statement for any charges you did not make. One trick thieves use to see if you are monitoring account activity is to charge small amounts. If the charges go undetected, they typically move on to larger purchases.
  1. Check your credit report. Checking your credit report annually is important, but it is critical to monitor your credit report during the months following a data breach. Thieves may open new accounts in your name, running up and potentially ruining your credit. Not to mention the headaches it creates to clean up each occurrence of fraud and restore your good credit.

If you ever suspect you are the victim of a data breach, you can request a copy of your free credit report rather than wait to be contacted by the retailer. Credit reports are available for free and can be requested by visiting the website If you come across unauthorized charges, notify one of the credit bureaus right away so a fraud alert can be placed on your credit report. To reduce your vulnerability to future data breaches, remember these tips and consider putting one or more into practice.