Verizon Business is delivering some bad news today. According to a detailed report from the telecom giant, debit-card transactions are less secure. Compared to last year at this time, 79 percent of banks, retailers, hotels, restaurants, your local watering hole and their "payment processing" providers aren't doing enough to protect your consumer data. This is particularly bad news as Americans head out to begin their holiday shopping.
As Verizon notes, "A full 33% of merchants who process and transmit (credit card) data are also storing consumer data, and they don't have to in order to process their transactions. (A)lmost one-third don't even encrypt the data they're storing."
Obviously, the best way to protect your personal data is to not give it out at all, but that's nearly impossible in today's global marketplace. You could live entirely off "the grid," or you can follow these eight tips for protecting this vital information, in honor of October's designation as National Cyber Security Awareness Month.
1. Play it Close to the Vest
Provide businesses with limited data and on a need-to-know basis. Don't give a cashier your phone number or ZIP code just because they ask. You can use a false address and phone number for supermarket loyalty cards. And exchange gift cards for credit or debit cards so every merchant or service provider doesn't have your personal info.
2. Block Your IP Address
When shopping or banking online, the business's server can identify where you live and read other personal data through your Internet Protocol (IP) address. You can hide this information, but it takes a bit of work. Here's how.
3. Pay With Cash
Ultimately, paying with cash is a frugal move anyway as we're less likely to part with those green bills than to simply whip out the plastic. You can actually see your resources diminish as you hand over cash to pay for a new dress, a restaurant lunch or a spa treatment.
4. Use a Credit Card
Credit cards offer consumer protections you won't find with debit cards. Still, you're giving out your personal data with each swipe, so it pays to be wary. (See #5)
5. Watch for Multiple Swipes
If a cashier is swiping your card more than once because "it didn't register," you may be charged twice or the cashier could be using the second swipe as a way to copy the data from the magnetic strip to create an identical card.
6. Check Your Statements Regularly
The advantage of online banking and bill payment is that you can keep a close eye on these accounts. Make a practice of checking in at least weekly, if not daily, to identify any erroneous or illegal transactions.
7. Monitor Your Credit Rating
AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source for your annual free credit report. You can request them from all three companies -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- at the same time, but ordering each report at separate times of the year allows you to more closely monitor your rating.
8. Avoid Auto-Fill Forms
Auto-fill or auto-complete services on your browser let you fill out web forms with a few clicks or a keyboard shortcut. Unfortunately, this data also includes your name, address, phone number, email address and possibly other data that can be stolen.
The referenced Verizon report was based on reviews of documents, site visits, in-person interviews, and analysis from actual data breaches. Participants in the worldwide study included 60-percent Americans, 30-percent Europeans and 5-percent Asians and residents of other regions.