The holidays are in full swing, which means that American consumers are doing some serious shopping. But all that spending can come with some risks, thanks to retail-based data breaches and ensuing identity theft.
In fact, 40% of all breaches in 2017 targeted payment card data, according to Trustwave's 2018 Global Security Report. And incidents involving point-of-sale systems were most common in North America. Keeping data safe should be a priority for shoppers, given the potential for point of sales data breaches and identity theft.
6 Steps to Protect Your Own Data
There's plenty that consumers can do to protect their data at malls, shops, restaurants, and other retail outlets. Here are six tips to help you do what data security experts do when they're out engaging with retailers in public.
1. Use Different Numbers
"As a rule of thumb, I have separate credit card numbers for online shopping, standard bills, physical shopping, and travel," says Andrew Bagrin, founder and CEO of OmniNet, a leading Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS) provider, in Wilmington, De. "The reason is that it's easier to lose a credit card while traveling and it's easier to get a credit card compromised while shopping online or in store." (See also: There's One Big Difference Between Debit and Credit)
2. Get Alerts
Bagrin also advises reducing the risk of a POS retail data breach by going the
‘alerts' route. "If available, set up your credit or debit card to notify you every time it is used for any amount," he says. "I get a quick email and I can tell right away if it was me, an automatic payment, or if I have a problem."
3. Track Your Credit Health
Monitor your credit with a product like Experian CreditWorks to get notifications if your credit is accessed. "Since everyone's identity has been compromised, there very likely will be attempts to open credit with your identity to purchase something, and you will be stuck with the bill," Bagrin says. "To stop that, make sure you monitor and act fast."
4. Change Your Name
If you shop online, don't use the same username and password at multiple online locations. "If your account at BobsCandles.com get stolen and you used the same credentials at BankofAmerica.com and Paypal.com, you have a much bigger problem," Bagrin warns. He advises altering your password at each online account, even if it's just adding "BOA" or "PP" to the beginning or end of your password. "Pick something you will know and remember - BOA for Bank of America and PP for PayPal," he adds. "This may seem very simple, but it's extremely effective." (See also: What If Everything You Know About Passwords Is Wrong?)
5. Don't Hand Your Card Over
One of the best point-of-sale defense mechanisms is to not let the cashier handle your card, and also to cover your hands when entering your four-digit pin number, states Adam Watson, managing director at Hollywood Mirrors, a U.K.-based retail enterprise. "Also, don't give any other personal details out if the shopkeeper requests like email address, postal address, phone number, and name," Watson advises.
6. Follow Up
Shoppers can also check with their payment card providers to ensure they have the correct contact details on file. "That will enable the card issuer to contact you if they notice any unusual spending patterns on your card," says Grafton Potter, vice president of sales, North America at PCI Pal. "In turn, you should keep your card supplier's 24-hour contact details handy in case of emergency and keep your payment card with you at all times. Also, don't allow it to be taken away from you in shops, restaurants or bars."
Monitor Your Identity
It's always smart to monitor your identity and credit to make sure no one is accessing your data without your permission. Check your free Experian credit report for errors or suspicious account, and run a free dark web scan to find out if information like your Social Security number or email addresses are on the dark web.
You can freeze your credit reports, which prevents lenders from issuing new credit in your name altogether. Or try Experian CreditLock, a benefit of your Experian membership, which allows you to lock and unlock your report in real time, with no waiting period. You also receive daily monitoring of your credit file, up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, and access to your Experian credit report and FICO® Score*.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on December 6, 2018, and has been updated.
*Credit score calculated based on FICO® Score 8 model. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8, or another type of credit score altogether. Learn more.