November 26, 2019

Safeguard Against Cyber Theft This Holiday Season

The holiday season is prime time for consumer and company gift buying, which means cyber thieves are out in full force. In fact, today’s hyperconnected world increases the potential for cyberattacks the moment you pull out your credit or debit card, so it’s important to increase your cyber awareness—especially during this time of year.

Here are best practices to prevent, detect, and recover from cyber theft that could occur when using any type of payment card. These tips are designed to help minimize your exposure to payment scams and unauthorized debits when using your cards at ATMs, gas stations, independent retail stores, and for online purchases. Let’s begin.

  1. Prevent
    Credit v. Debit Card
    When holiday shopping for that Secret Santa workplace gift, you might wind up at a store you’ve never shopped at or a website you don’t normally frequent. So, which type of card should you use: credit or debit? First, you need to understand the difference.

    A debit card is a direct link from your bank account to a merchant’s payment system. When you enter your PIN into the merchant’s payment console, you are authorizing them to transfer the money directly from your bank account. It’s akin to letting the merchant reach into your wallet and take the money out.

    On the other hand, a credit card does not provide direct access to your bank account like a debit card does. When you pay by credit card, you are basically borrowing money from the credit card company to pay the charge, and then you pay them back. This form of payment provides a much safer consumer experience. When you pay by credit card, you’re minimizing the risk to your personal finances by letting the credit card company assume the risk—and act as intermediary between you and the merchant’s pay system.

    ATMs and Skimmers
    ATMs in convenience stores and open payment system consoles, like gas station pumps, present hidden dangers that require extra awareness. These dangers include thieves lurking in the vicinity, skimmers attached to the front of card payment readers, and cameras pointed at keypads to record PIN numbers as they’re entered. So, take steps to be more vigilant.

    Use well-lit ATMs at reputable banks, and make sure to monitor your surroundings for anyone loitering nearby. To detect if there’s a skimmer attached to the card reader, visually inspect the card insertion point BEFORE you put your card in. If that part seems loose or appears to have been tampered with, it could be a skimmer and you should use a different ATM.

    Another thing to consider is that skimmers can be handheld. For instance, you buy a souvenir from a street vendor while on your last 4Q business trip. When you hand your card to the vendor, it could be susceptible to a handheld skimmer device. This type of skimming is hard to prevent, so the best advice is to keep an eye on your card once you hand it over.

  1. Detect
    It’s important to understand that cyber threats are real, they happen often, and they don’t just happen to other people. Cybertheft can happen to YOU.

    The best way to detect a cyber threat is to pay attention to what the experts are telling you. That means if you get a notification from your credit card company about a fraudulent activity on your personal or company card, heed their advice. Credit card companies are very aggressive at monitoring for fraud and disciplined at notifying customers when an event has occurred. One suggestion is to set your credit card notification limit to the minimum amount, so you’re notified immediately when the minimum is charged. In many instances, you can set this minimum as low as $10.

    In addition, you can monitor your credit by pulling a free credit report annually to check for unauthorized or incorrect activity. (You can also pull reports for children under the age of 18.) For additional reference, here are the websites for the three major credit reporting agencies:
    Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/
    Transunion: https://www.transunion.com/
    Experian: https://www.experianplc.com/

  2. Recover
    If you are a victim of cyber theft, you can take steps to recover. If there’s a questionable charge on your card, contact your credit card company right away. They’ll aggressively dispute charges on your behalf, so let them work hard for you. It’s also a smart idea to keep track of all the cards in your wallet by making a color photocopy of each one, front and back, then storing those copies in a locked fireproof safe in your home. If your wallet is ever lost or stolen, you’ll know exactly which cards to cancel and replace. Just call the emergency number listed on the back of each card.

Don’t let cyber thieves steal your holiday spirit! Follow these easy tips for prevention, detection, and recovery to minimize your cyber risks and make the holiday season safer and more secure.

Happy Holidays!


Jason Shockey,
Chief Information Security Officer