Unless you’ve been living under rock, by now you are aware that if you used a credit card or debit card while shopping at Target or Neiman Marcus during the holiday season (and now Michaels), chances are that your personal account information has been compromised. Reports of fraudulent activity or bank accounts being wiped clean are already spreading like wildfire across social media platforms.
Being the shopaholic that I am, you can bet that I am among the millions who shopped these retailers (as well as many others) during the time frame that the hacking took place. And, like everyone else, I’m paranoid, using cash nowadays, and monitoring my account like a mother bear protecting her cubs from predators.
But regardless of whether or not 17-year-old evil geniuses (yes, the alleged hacker is a mere teenager), are trolling the Internet and stealing our info, we all need to be practicing caution when it comes to shopping. You work hard for your money, don’t you? And you don’t want some scumbag crook taking it from you. So, consumer expert Andrea Woroch has come up with six ways to protect your information while shopping. Practice them wisely and diligently, and hopefully you’ll never have to deal with the emotional and financial chaos that ensues when someone steals your identity, or your money, or both.
- Pay Cash
It’s a known fact that consumers are less likely to part with their hard-earned greenbacks than they are with funds electronically debited from their bank account. Paying cash not only saves your information but helps you keep that New Year’s resolution to spend less.
- Stock Up on Gift Cards
As the recent security breach illustrates, you’re putting your information at risk every time you swipe your credit or debit card. A great way to keep the convenience of plastic while protecting yourself is to pay with gift cards. Better yet, stock up on discount gift cards through sites like GiftCardGranny.com, where you can save between 5%-30%.
- Monitor Your Account
These days, most people receive electronic statements and many bills and transactions are automated for our convenience. However, checking into your account every couple days will help you catch any suspicious activity before it’s too late for you to fix.
- Know Your Credit Score
During an 8-year study commissioned by the FTC, a whopping 25% of consumers found errors on their credit reports. With stats like that it’s imperative to review your credit report annually. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year.
- Shop Securely
Have plans to purchase that super cute dress during your lunch hour at Starbucks? Bad idea. Free WiFi offered by restaurants is almost always unsecured so customers can easily access the network from any device. Even your Facebook privacy isn’t safe with unsecured WiFi, as hackers can obtain your login information and wreak havoc on your social network.
- Switch Up Passwords
If you’re like most consumers, you use the same or similar password for the majority of your accounts. While convenient, this tactic opens you up into even more personal and financial risks if your login information is compromised. Additionally, keeping the same password for an extended period of time can leave you vulnerable to hackers. Use different passwords for your accounts and switch them up every few months to stay secure.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.