Data breach prompts consumers to be more cautious with card practices

1/18/2014

By RENÉE JEAN

By RENÉE JEAN

rjean@gctelegram.com

The recent Target hacking incident has sparked a national dialog about the future of data security, but in the meantime, what's a smart shopper to do? Some area computer experts have a few surprising recommendations for this new digital shopping age.

Use a check. Pay in cash. And just ignore the sighs of guests behind you.

"With people who are check writers, the subtext has been, 'You're out of date, you're holding up the process," Doug Harder, with Paraclete Computers Services, said. "We're all in such a hurry these days, but checks are still pretty safe, and you still have a cash option at most places, so use it if there's any question."

Many shoppers have, in fact, been doing just that. Diane Hancock, for example, a Tennessee grandmother who passed through Garden City last week visiting her granddaughter, Britteny Tatum, said she won't stop shopping at Target as a result of the breach, but she has changed how she pays.

"I just pay in cash or use a check when I shop there now," she said.

Garden City resident Doug Pearson pulled a checkbook out of his pocket and waved it around.

"I just use a check," he said. "Other people are going back to that? Well I never left it. It may have its weaknesses, but I am old-fashioned."

Still, even the old-fashioned may want to shop online, and for that Pearson gets a prepaid card.

That's actually the smart approach, Harder said. With a prepaid card, liability is limited, and you're not storing any credit card information online.

"It's convenient to put all that stuff online because then, when you go back, you don't have to go through the hassle of putting all that information back in again, but it's riskier," Harder said.

Cassandra Gonzales knows first-hand it's a risky world for shoppers these days. The self-described Target shopaholic recently identified fraudulent charges on her bank account from the Starbucks store located inside the Garden City Target.

The charges amounted to about $400.

There's no way to know if the fraudulent charges were directly or indirectly related to Target's recent data breach, she says, but it was a disconcerting experience.

"The charges came through a foreign country, which is why they were so high," she said.

The charges were made via her Paypal account, so she closed that right away and notified her bank, Golden Plains Credit Union, of the suspicious activity.

"I manage Dugan's Coffeeshop," she told officials at her bank. "I wouldn't charge $5 at a Starbucks, much less hundreds."

The situation had been particularly worrisome because Gonzales was going out of the country the next week. She feared she wouldn't have secure access to her money for the trip — but the reissue of her card was handled in record time, and she was quickly reimbursed for the charges.

She hasn't gone back to cash or checks, but she has started getting prepaid cards when she shops online.

"No more Paypal for me," she said. "The bank said they get a lot of fraudulent charges through Paypal. I'm done with them."

Harder believes being a smart shopper in the digital age is mostly common sense. Keep the number of credit cards manageable, he suggests.

"Don't have nine credit cards," Harder said. " You can't really interface with your own money if you've got six or seven cards. Diligence overall is the whole thing. You should be monitoring your credit cards and your bank statement on a regular basis."

Look especially closely at small transactions, he said.

"A lot of times they'll ping an account with a buck and a half or so, something small just to see if it's a live account. If it stays open and active after that, then they get you," Harder said. "So anything odd like that, even if it's small — that may be the first indicator someone is knocking."

"Only buy from reputable sites," Robin Bergkamp from Palace Computers suggested.

Be careful, too, about the information you put on Facebook and social media.

"Anything you put on Facebook, My Space or any other type of social media, realize that you can never permanently delete it," Bergkamp said.

And those social questionnaires that ask what your favorite color is, your first pet's name and the like — those are also common security questions at many websites. That might not be the kind of information you want to put online these days.

"If you wouldn't yell it at the top of a building to everyone around, don't put it on Facebook," Bergkamp said.

Reviewing credit and bank accounts was the most common recommendation from bank officials, who are on the front line of data security every day. Many of them believe security changes will be coming along, but for now, diligence is the word for smart shoppers.

Brian Schwindt with First National Bank, recommended a check of accounts on a weekly basis, if not more often.

"Take advantage of mobile and online banking," Schwindt said, "and check it every week. Keep receipts and make sure everything on there is yours. If you see anything suspicious, notify your bank immediately."

First National has just rolled out instant issue cards in the wake of the Target hacking incident.

"It's something we had been working on before, but it became a priority after that," he said.

Since it would take two or three weeks to get new cards in the mail to customers anyway, the bank decided it could probably get its instant-issue procedure going just as fast, which would be more secure and more convenient for customers.

First National Bank received an alert about the Target incident and had a listing of those affected at the bank by the Monday after, Schwindt said. It took four or five people calling all day to reach all the customers on the list — the numbers were in the triple digits.

First National Bank decided the alert was high enough to just reissue cards for everyone on the list and start fresh. Different banks, however, have different procedures.

Commerce Bank also decided to reissue cards in the wake of the Target incident, but spokeswoman Deb Harding adds that the bank monitors customer accounts 24-7.

"We take a pre-emptive, proactive approach," she said. "We have staff dedicated to monitoring customer accounts, and they will contact the customer if they spot any unusual spending patterns or suspicious activity. I am always amazed at what they catch, and so are our customers. They have caught things before our customers even notice them."

She, too, recommends monitoring transactions diligently.

"At all times, not just because of Target, but at all times be aware of your account and review it," she said.

If your bank didn't reissue a card to you, that's not necessarily an indicator of trouble down the road.

"If your bank didn't call you to issue a new card, then likely, you weren't on the list and you're OK," Schwindt said, "but if you shopped at Target and you're worried about it, it doesn't hurt to call and ask about it for your peace of mind."

Schwindt suggests obtaining a copy of your credit report at least twice a year.

"There are three different credit companies, and you can get one free credit report a year from each of them," Schwindt said. The names of the companies are Transunion, Experien and Equifax. The report may be requested online at the respective website of each one.

Target is also offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for a year to all its guests. They had initially reported the window of concern for shoppers was Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, but have since widened that window and said as many as 70 million people may have been affected. Garden City Target officials weren't allowed to talk to the media, and corporate spokespeople could not say how many people in the area have signed up for the free credit-monitoring service to date. Information about the service is available online at target.com, along with updates about the security breach.

While many people may be considering cash purchases now in light of the recent hacking incident at Target, Schwindt wasn't sure he agreed that is the most secure option.

"I understand where they are coming from," he said. "And it does hurt a little more when you see that cash going out of your hand than when you swipe a card. That might make some of us a little more frugal. But I think carrying a debit card is still safer than carrying cash. If you lose a debit card, you're out a debit card, which you can cancel. If you lose $100, you're out $100 — and you can't get it back."

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