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The Lessons of Target: Keeping Your Cards Safe in a Fraudster-Fraught World

It may seem that in a world where thieves can potentially breach 40 million accounts at the second largest retailer in their own stores, consumers don’t have much ammunition to protect our debit and credit cards.

The fact is, there are common sense, proven preventatives we all need to exercise on a regular basis, and here are some of the most effective:

When you’re out and about …

  • Keep your head in the game at the checkout counter, ATM and gas pump. Instead of texting or talking on the phone while your transaction is being completed, stay alert. “Be on the lookout for credit and debit card reading devices that look suspicious, such as a plastic sleeve inside a card slot” advises Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. “Crooks are getting very good at attaching their own devices over legitimate card readers and gathering account information from the cards that consumers swipe through those readers.”
  • The same goes for paying your server at a restaurant. If you see your card being swiped through two devices, alert the manager and your card provider. The second device could be recording your data to be loaded on a fraudulent card.

When you’re online …

  • If you use your debit card or credit card to make a purchase, log off the website or shut down your browser after you complete your transaction.
  •  Don’t assume email is secure. If you don’t want someone you don’t know reading your message (or your account number), don’t include it in an email.

Sweat the small stuff …

Don’t assume that a small, unauthorized transaction isn’t worth reporting to the bank. Last spring the FDIC noted a case where an operation that allegedly debited hundreds of thousands of consumers’ bank accounts billed their credit cards for more than $25 million — in small charges — without their consent.

Get back to basics …

  • Make a list of all your debit and credit card information and store it securely and separately from your cards.
  • If your statement doesn’t appear or arrive within a few days of your regular receipt date call the bank.
  • Use a little more rigor in selecting a PIN. Cyber thieves know to try your birthdate and address right away.
  • Never give out your payment card numbers in response to an unsolicited email, text message or phone call, no matter who the source supposedly is.

And finally …

Take inventory. The more cards you have, the more exposure you have. Do you really need all of them?

We all enjoy the convenience of plastic payment options. Taking some common sense steps will ensure they’re safe as well.