In this blog series on security breaches, we’ve talked a lot about what retailers can do to secure their IT infrastructures and to protect customer data. However, in today’s environment, it is impossible for any company, not to a mention a retailer, to be 100% secure. The question isn’t IF your favorite store will get hacked; the question is WHEN your favorite store will get hacked.

Given this reality, let’s turn our attention to what we as consumers can do to protect ourselves. Following three basic practices will limit your risk of exposure to nearly zero, and means you can continue blissfully shopping at all of your favorite stores, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen their name in the paper recently.

#1 – Ditch the debit cards

As I was first venturing into the adult world, one piece of financial advice my dad gave me was, “Debit cards are evil.” It was the late ‘90s, so data breaches and BlackPOS weren’t top of mind. Heck, e-commerce was just kicking off then. He was thinking about old school things like earning interest in your checking account, earning cash back from credit cards, and the risk of the card being lost or stolen.

Fast forward to today’s environment and Dad’s advice is better than ever. If a debit card number is compromised, your checking account can be emptied and your money inaccessible while you go through what can be a lengthy process of disputing the charge. With credit cards, on the other hand, you are not obligated to make payments that are under dispute, so the disputed funds stay with you. In reality your only risk from a compromised credit card number is the inconvenience of having to update auto-payments if your credit card company issues a new number. That is if you do #2…

#2 - Review your statements carefully

We as consumers do have an obligation to review our credit card statements each month and to promptly report any erroneous charges. In doing so, be especially mindful of small charges, say for like $0.05, that might be testing the viability of your card number. That type of charge is an early indicator that your credit card number has fallen into the hands of evil, so don’t let the size of the charge keep you from reporting it.

By carefully reviewing your credit card statement each month and reporting any charges that don’t seem right, you shift the responsibility for unauthorized charges from yourself to your credit card company.

#3 - Don’t stress out about the headlines

Working for a security software company, I get questioned a lot about retail security breaches by friends and family. When Target came under fire last fall, a lot of folks asked if I was going to stop shopping there and if they should stop too. The thought of not shopping at Target had never crossed my mind. Shoot, I live in Minnesota; I’d give up hockey before giving up Target.

Seriously, though, if you’ve followed the steps above, there’s little if any effect on you if your credit card info is compromised. You don’t need to stop shopping at a store because you see its name in the paper. Swipe away and leave the worry to your favorite retailer’s IT department.

If you’d like to learn more about recent security breaches, what companies can do to defend their networks, and what consumers can do protect themselves, please join us for the following Shavlik webinar.

Security Breaches Everywhere – Help your company stay out of the headlines
Thursday, October 2, 2014 10:00 am CDT
Register Now