Unsettling reports of credit card breaches continue to appear in the media, and they show no signs of stopping. Just a few weeks ago, more news broke about an attack on the popular fast food chain, Wendy’s.
In the fall of 2015, malicious computer hackers installed malware, programs designed to cause harm to a computer system, on the restaurant’s point-of-sale software. A new update suggests that these criminals have access to cardholder names, card numbers, expiration dates, and other information from customers who’ve frequented any of 1,025 restaurant locations.
Wendy’s is by no means the only major corporation to become a target for hackers. Past victims include Target, The Home Depot, eBay, Kmart, and more. And as technology advances, cyberthieves will only become more sophisticated in their attacks on retailer databases. However, there are some measures you can take to perform damage control, and to protect yourself against future breaches.
Controlling the Damage from a Fraudulent Attack
If you find that you are a potential victim in credit card fraud, it’s important that you take action to minimize the damage. Here are some steps to follow if a fraudulent attack has already occurred.
1. Monitor your account closely
The most important step is to review the compromised credit or debit account carefully for any actions that you didn’t perform yourself. If you discover anything suspicious, notify your account provider immediately. Your liability will be limited for any fraudulent purchases, as long as you do this immediately. You can even set up a text or email service with most banks and credit card companies to receive notifications for future withdrawals and other activity.
2. Close or replace your card
Even if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, it doesn’t hurt to be proactive and replace your card. Thieves sometimes hold out and wait to take action with stolen information, so you might be saving yourself from a hassle to deal with later on.
3. Place a fraud alert on your credit file
While it’s unlikely for identity theft to occur with only card information, it’s still a possibility. Having a fraud alert placed on your credit file makes it much more difficult for potential identity thieves to open new credit cards under your name. You’ll also receive a free credit report from all three major credit agencies when you file, which will allow you to detect any fraud that’s already occurred.
4. Take advantage of services the company may be offering
In many instances, companies who were victims of a breach offer services to help their involved customers prevent fraud. In this case, Wendy’s is providing one year of fraud consultation and identity restoration to anyone who was a customer in the appropriate time frame.
Keeping an Eye out for Fraud
While there's not much you can do to stop crooks from breaching security on a company’s end, there are measures you can take to protect yourself from fraudsters whenever you're online.
5. Beware of phishing emails
If you receive an email with attachments or links from a sender you don’t know, or even a reputable company, search the website and make sure it’s legitimate. Even after researching, be wary: clicking the links or downloading attachments in these fake messages give phishers access to your personal data. Advanced hackers can pose as anyone from your favorite online retailer to your co-worker, so keep that in mind when checking your inbox.
6. Use caution when accessing public WiFi
Don’t access sites that contain sensitive information, such as online banking or shopping accounts, while you’re connected to public WiFi that doesn’t require a password. That’s an easy way for your information to be compromised and viewed by the wrong eyes. At the very least, make sure the websites you’re accessing are encrypted, and show a small padlock symbol in the address bar.
7. Take care of your passwords
Make sure your passwords include random letters, numbers, and symbols and are different for every single account. On top of that, change them about every six months. This takes some time and creativity, but it’s one of the best ways you can protect yourself. Work on writing them all down and storing them in one secure place, and soon you’ll never have to think twice about where to find that password you forgot.
8. Keep social media accounts private
Hackers and thieves can use information you post to answer your security questions, guess passwords, and even con you into divulging sensitive information. Never accept a friend request from someone you don’t know personally, and be somewhat sparing about the information you choose to include in future posts.
9. When paying online, use credit cards over debit
It’s less risky to use a credit card for online purchases. If your credit card information were to be compromised online, most companies would assume full responsibility for any losses. A different law governs debit card use, and it’s possible that you’d be liable for any fraudulent charges made if you fail to report within 60 days. With a debit card, fraudsters have more direct access to your account.
10. Start using credit cards with chips
For further security, use credit cards with computer chips. These are very popular in Europe and Canada and are quickly becoming widespread in the U.S. While the magnetic strips that traditional cards have can be copied, when the chips are read, they produce a one-time code for the transaction that makes it very difficult for thieves to duplicate.
11. Pay with cash or gift cards whenever possible
In addition to helping you stick to a budget, paying with cash or gift cards is the only way to absolutely ensure your safety in a credit card breach. Although it isn’t always a possibility, paying with cash or a gift card becomes easier with a little bit of planning. Plus if you use a gift card vendor where some cards are reloadable, like Great Lakes Scrip Center, they become as convenient to use as a credit or debit card, but with a lot less risk!
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