Are You Protecting Yourself from Cyber Attacks?

Cyber Attacks On the Rise

It started on Black Friday, a massive, unparalleled cyber attack against a major retailer. The attack lasted for over two weeks. In the end, more than 40 million financial records were compromised.

Credit cards. Debit cards. Even PIN numbers.

Retail giant Target announced the breach on December 19th and asked customers who had recently shopped inside their brick and mortar locations to contact their financial institutions to determine the best way to protect their accounts.

In a separate incident, Snapchat, a private photo-sharing site, also fell victim to hackers. The hackers cracked the database and posted more than four million usernames and phone numbers online.

The hackers who hit Target had financial motives. The ones that attacked Snapchat seemed to want to demonstrate that the site’s security wasn’t up to snuff—and they were willing to expose personal information of millions of people to do it.

Both cases go to show that when it comes to sharing any of your personal details—especially financial details—you should take special precautions.

Stolen Credit Cards Flood Black Market

After the successful breach of Target’s database, the people behind the attack didn’t waste any time offering the stolen credit card information up for sale. Within a week, reports of stolen credit card numbers flooding into the black market were already circulating. If your card details were stolen, they may have been sold to someone who plans to use the information to make purchases with your money, or steal your identity.

In response, companies all over the world are scrambling to protect themselves. The sale of insurance against cyber attacks has spiked.

In this day and age, even if you don’t shop online, your financial details are still exposed, because whenever you use a credit card, chances are the company you’re shopping with is making that transaction through online channels. That means you could become the victim of a cyber attack.

We all need to be proactive when it comes to keeping our finances safe.

Fortunately, there are some simple, common sense steps you can take to reduce your chance of exposure.

Three Easy Ways to Protect

Yourself From Cyber Crime

Cyber crime is on the rise, so we recommend that you pay in cash when you can.

Pay in Cash: There’s a tradeoff between using cash and using plastic. On the one hand, making cash purchases insulates you from the kind of cyber attack that happened to Target customers. On the other hand, you take on more risk if you become the victim of a physical attack. If a thief steals your cash, it’s gone. If they steal your credit card, you can cancel the card to prevent serious financial damage.

Follow a few safety precautions, and you’ll avoid becoming an easy target for muggers and pickpockets:

  • Don’t carry more cash than you need to.
  • Carry your cash in hard-to-reach places—like the inside pocket of your jacket—rather than in a purse or a wallet in your back pocket.
  • When you’re carrying cash, keep it in two places. Put a few bucks in your purse or wallet and the rest in an inside pocket. That way if you do get mugged, the thief will most likely take the obvious cash and leave the bigger amount untouched.
  • Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing expensive clothes or jewelry.
  • Avoid situations that set off red flags—if something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to leave.

If you’re uncomfortable carrying cash, use a gift card instead.

Use a Gift Card: Gift cards are anonymous, so hackers can’t access any of your financial information beyond the gift card number, and like cash, the most you can lose is whatever you’re carrying with you.

These days you can pick up gift cards almost anywhere. Choose a gift card offered by a major credit card provider like VISA, MasterCard, or American Express, and you’ll be able to use the card at any business that accepts credit cards from the same company.

Gifts cards are not reloadable, so you need to keep track of how much is available on your card. Once it’s empty and you’re certain you don’t plan to return any of the purchases you made with the card, you can just throw it out.

Monitor your account activity often.

Monitor Your Accounts: This may seem like the most obvious advice in the world, but I’ve encountered enough people who don’t regularly check their accounts for unusual activity to know that it bears mentioning.

I suggest you review your accounts—checking, savings, and credit cards—once a week for strange charges. Most of the time, you won’t see anything out of the ordinary. But if you do see an odd charge, you will be able to call your bank immediately and inform them of the details. The quicker you can bring suspicious activity to their attention, the more they can do to protect you.

Cyber attacks are a part of everyday life now. Taking a proactive approach will help protect you, your identity, your credit rating, and your hard-earned money to stay safe from abuse by hackers and cyber thieves.