Target, Home Depot, Michaels Stores, Chase Bank. Every week, it seems, another well-known retailer or bank is hit by a hacker attack.
Shannon Daugherty became a victim after shopping at a Target store in Kentucky late last year.
“Someone tried to use my credit card,” she said. “They scanned it at a grocery store in Texas.”
In Bridgetown, Ohio, Leslie Yeoman recently had her credit card hacked, and remembers the sinking feeling she had when she found unexplained charges on her monthly bill.
“You just feel real violated,” she said. “It’s like who’s doing this to me?”
So how can you protect yourself?
We went to an internet security expert Brian Minick. He allowed us into their downtown threat center, where a team of experts monitor threats around the clock.
He says the attacks are getting more sophisticated, thanks to inexpensive hacking software.
“I think it’s a progression of technology,” Minick said. “What was once hard and expensive is now becoming cheaper and easier to do.”
So he told us what he does, and recommends others do as well.
Tighten Your Passwords
Minick’s first tip is to make passwords complex, combining upper and lower case letters and numbers. And never use the same password for multiple accounts.
Also, he said, consider a website and software program like Key Pass or Last Pass to remember your passwords for you, which is what he uses. He says everything is encrypted and is safe.
“All you have to do is remember one password and it remembers everything else for you, so you can have different passwords for every site and they can be very complicated passwords,” Minick said.
Set up Alerts
His next tip: Set up alerts on your bank account, credit card, and debit card, where you receive a text for large purchases over $300.
“Certain purchase dollar amounts, there are a lot of different options depending on the bank you have that you can implement there.” It will alert you if someone uses your card to buy a smartphone, iPad, or big screen TV.
Should You Change Banks?
What about switching to a smaller bank that is less likely to attract hackers?
Minick does not suggest that, saying a smaller bank, while off the radar of Russian hackers, may not have the best security.
“I would not jump to another institution all the things that are involved in that. Because then that bank could be hit? Absolutely, they are all potential targets.”
Safeguard Your Checking Account
But here’s one good bank tip: Link your debit card to a small account, not the main account you use for your mortgage, rent, or car payment.
That way if someone gets your number, they can’t clear out all your money, causing your mortgage or rent to bounce.
Finally check your accounts weekly, not monthly, for any unusual activity.
You can pay a company to monitor your credit. But Consumer Reports Magazine say checking your statements and your credit report annually through www.annualcreditreport.com is enough for most people.
If you are concerned you may be a target for ID theft, you can put a fraud alert on your credit report, or completely freeze it.
You will then need a password to unfreeze it any time you take out a loan or set up a cell phone account.
You can find out more about fraud alerts and freezing your credit at the websites of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.