It’s been more than a year since a major credit card breach made the evening news. In March 2012, Global Payments Inc, a company that processes credit card transactions reported card data was compromised by unauthorized access, sending a wave of dire warnings to all major credit cardholders to pay particular attention to their credit accounts. After the dust settled, the official analysis was that less than 1.5 million cards were compromised, a small amount considering an estimated 600 million credit cards are held in the U.S. alone.
While the company has suffered immeasurably by being dropped by Visa from its registry of compliant service providers, it appears that the breach had no direct links to fraudulent activity against any consumer account. But don’t be fooled into a false sense of security, hackers are continually looking to wreck havoc in the lives of innocent Americans. If you are contacted regarding the possibility of an account being compromised, there are some safety measures to follow before taking action.
Confirming a Company Breach
- Is the announcement of a breach the real scam? This is the sneakiest trick happening today and the least suspect. The legitimacy of any breach claim needs to be checked. Don’t trust an email, the U.S. mail or even a phone call. Contact your bank by phone personally to confirm a breach before you proceed in following any advice. If you choose to ignore this important warning, you could be giving the very information you’re trying to protect to the people you hope to be protected from.
- Ask for specifics regarding what’s been compromised. Knowing this will help you determine how much damage may occur and how much you will be responsible for. A debit card breach will empty out your checking account, leaving you no recourse, unless the bank was at fault and accepts responsibility. A credit card breach will mean a maximum output of $50 in authorized charges.
Preventing a Personal Breach
Companies that have legitimate access to financial accounts may be vulnerable to attack, opening up the threat of your personal information or identity being stolen. And while you may be powerless in preventing your personal information from being stolen through a company breach, there are things you can do to prevent your own breach.
What may seem like an inadvertent or simple error on your credit card statement may soon turn ugly, if you aren’t on the lookout for breaches of your own. A hacker who gains access to your full name, address, credit card or Social Security number can steal your identity with a little effort. With that information they can gain access to the cards’ expiration date or three-digit security code, and they have the ingredients to stir up disaster.
General guidelines to protecting your accounts include thoroughly examining each monthly statement for errors and review your credit reports quarterly. Even a small discrepancy may be a thief testing the viability of the account with a small purchase. So never disregard any charge, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. By reporting it to the credit card company, you may be giving them the information necessary to catch the hacker.
Change your passwords frequently. Create a new password for each account. The more challenging and creative they are the harder it will be for a hacker to gain access. Don’t settle for simple and quick; use letters and numbers, lower and upper case and a minimum of eight figures. Avoid using information that is readily available like your birthday or zip code.
Set up credit report self-monitoring. While there are identity theft protection services offering to watch for fraud for a monthly fee, your credit card issuer and bank may have programs already in place to do just that. But you can strengthen those protections by setting up alerts to self-monitor your accounts. Just as monthly statements give you an opportunity to catch unauthorized charges to your account, reviewing your credit reports area a vital tool to discovering fraudulent activity. Make it easier to remember by setting an electronic alarm on your computer to go off when it’s time to request your credit reports. The first copy of the three major reports each year will be free, but you’ll have to pay for the rest. You can’t put a price on the security you’ll feel in knowing you’ve taken the initiative to oversee your own accounts.
Maintain your home and mobile security. Firewalls, malware and antivirus software needs to be installed on all computers and android devices, thorough enough to prevent all types of invasion threats and updated regularly. Never click on email links, especially from strangers. Invisible malware may be embedded in the link that will monitor your computer keystrokes and reveal your passwords. With three major browsers free to download, choose one that will be used exclusively for online banking and nothing else.
Being proactive will always work in your favor, no matter what the issue, but especially when it comes to protecting your identity. With an estimated 12 million victims of identity fraud in 2012, it’s easy to see why it’s so important that you keep alert and respond quickly if you suspect a compromise in your finances. Quick action will help reduce your losses and assist in bringing the crooks to justice.
About The Author: Vanessa May is a regular contributor to www.wowcreditcards.com and a variety of financial blogs. Hoping to educate consumers, she uses government and other reputable sources to provide up-to-date, relevant news on money management, credit/debt, popular credit card offers, debt services and other finance related topics. Her goal is to inform consumers by providing information that may impact their ability to manage their financial situation responsibly.