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Is CHIP & PIN Credit Card Security Worth $100M? (Are You Serious?)

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I’ve had dozens of media requests for interviews and countless more email inquiries from people concerned about the Target data breach.  At first, everyone just wanted to know details of how it happened, how big the breach was, and what they should do about it if their credit cards were at risk.  Now that the initial shock of it is over, we are on to a bigger question:

How do we keep breach from negatively affecting so many Americans? 

Breach will always happen. If it’s digital, it’s hackable. It’s coming to light that the Target breach may have been due to the computer access an HVAC WORKER (no, not an entire company, an individual WORKER) had to Target’s systems. While there is no guaranteed way of preventing fraud, there is a pretty reliable answer out there, and it’s been around for decades.  That answer is for the US to finally catch up to more than 80 countries around the world and start using chip and PIN enabled credit cards, also known as EMV, smart cards, or microchip cards.

By placing microchips in credit cards, it makes it much harder for criminals to clone the cards than the relatively easy-to-crack magnetic stripes.  Chip cards take the cardholder information and turn it into a unique code for each transaction. They also often require additional authentication, such a personal identification number, or PIN. So in the case of the Target breach, the stolen data couldn’t be used to easily create duplicate credit cards, drastically reducing the value of the stolen data. The possibility for online abuse of the numbers (known as Card Not Present transactions) would remain a threat from the breach, but it would be a fraction of the problem (and solvable in other ways).

France has been using this technology since 1982, the UK since 2001, and Canada since 2007. In the first five years after the UK started using chip & PIN, fraud went down 70%.  In that same time period, the cost for fraud in the US had DOUBLED. It’s not that the technology is perfect, it’s that the increased security convinces criminals to target those who don’t use the technology (which to this point has only been, well, the United States). 

If there is such a great guarantee on fraud reduction by switching to chip and PIN cards, why is the US resisting it?  The answer:  MONEY.  Banks, credit card companies, and retailers have been caught in a battle of wills for many years now, with retailers not wanting to spend money on installing new chip-friendly card readers unless banks are committed to spending money on issuing new cards.

The cost of implementing the card system can be staggering. Target is expected to spend around $100 million to install new chip card readers in an effort to protect against cyber theft.

So is it worth $100 million to implement chip and PIN technology?

Without question. And even Target thinks so, or at least it did ten years ago when it was at the forefront of implementing chip & PIN technology.  From 2001-2004 they spent $40 million to adopt chip-based credit-card technology and installed 37,000 new point-of-sale terminals to handle chip cards across its U.S. stores.

Ultimately they backed out because their marketing strategy at the time just didn’t catch on with consumers and because it was taking “A FEW SECONDS” longer per customer to get through the line.  I don’t know about you, but I’d wait an extra two seconds in order to know my data is secure.  And I bet Target victims would take back the time it is taking them to change their credit card information with every online site or monthly automatic payment company their now-compromised card was used for.

To put the cost in perspective, $100 million is about $1.00 per Target breach customer. I bet the average credit card holder would be willing to foot the $1 bill to dramatically reduce their risk (even if it’s not a perfect solution). In fact, the cost of fraud gets passed on to customers anyway (higher credit card rates, higher retail prices), so why not spend that same money (or far less, in fact) on securing the transactions in the first place? 

  • A survey of 936 credit unions indicates the Target breach has cost credit unions an average of about $5.10 per card affected by the security lapse.  The Credit Union National Association said these costs most likely do not include any fraud losses, which are likely to occur later.
  • In 2012, the Ponemon Institute’s annual study showed the average cost of a data breach in the US is $188 per person notified.
  • For credit issuers, the average cost per record breached is set at $280.
  • Aite Group reports that card fraud in the U.S. already costs the card payment industry (primarily issuers) $8.6 billion a year.

 You tell me if it’s worth it! (Seriously, I want your thoughts and comments below)

How do we get there?

It seems crystal clear to me that fraudsters have gotten so sophisticated that we either need to join together (retailers, banks, and credit card companies) or we will fail to stop this trend of Mega-Breaches.  Pardon the pun, but clearly we have put the “target” on our own backs; criminals have increasingly focused on the US because we are so far behind.

James Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase sees this as an opportunity for real change.  He said,  “All of us have a common interest in being protected, so this might be a chance for retailers and banks to for once work together, as opposed to sue each other like we’ve been doing the last decade.”

I see 4 overarching steps that need to be taken:

  1. Retailers, credit card processors, banks, VISA, MasterCard and American Express need to stop focusing on their own self-interest (profit) and start to work together for the common good. Of course, they won’t do this without incentive, so…
  2. Congress should create  a U.S. equivalent of the U.K. Card Association that sets policy and has the authority to fine those stakeholders who fail to act.
  3. In other words, we will need legislation to ensure that the “liability shift” dates projected for 2015 are met.  This means that if credit card companies have issued chip and PIN cards, but retailers have not installed machines to read them, the merchants would be held accountable for any losses due to fraud.
  4. Everyone needs to understand that there will be costs associated with the change, just like there are costs when you install a security system, a lock on a door or a vault in a bank.

Will chip and PIN cost retailers? Yes. Will chip and PIN cost banks? Yes. Will it cost consumers? Yes. Will it cost (in total) as much as the fraud resulting from even a single major breach like Target. NO. It’s time to start thinking about security from a long-term perspective, and long-term profitability will follow.

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on Rachael Ray, 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Cyber Security Expert John Sileo on Fox Money

Top Tips to Stop Tax-time Identity Theft – Part 1

Tax Time Identity Theft: Part 1 – Tax Preparers | Part 2 – Protecting Computers | Part 3 – IRS & Tax Scams

Tax season can be a stressful time of year for individuals and business owners alike, especially those who fail to plan in advance and then sacrifice focus and performance as they race to meet the filing deadline. But that stress is nothing compared to the potential destruction of your financial reputation brought on by tax-time identity theft. And tax-related identity theft is on a precipitous rise.

An audit published on July 19, 2012 by the U.S. Treasury Department, found that the IRS paid fraudulent tax returns to identity thieves worth a total of $5 Billion in 2011. The study also predicted that the IRS (and therefore, you as a taxpayer) will lose an estimated $21 Billion in fraudulent claims over the next five years. Tax-related information is the Holy Grail of identity theft because it contains virtually every piece of information, including a Social Security number (SSN), which a fraudster needs to defraud you.

Tax-related identity theft affects individuals in a couple of ways:

  1. Refund fraud. In refund fraud, an identity thief illegally uses a taxpayer’s name and SSN to file for a tax refund, which the IRS discovers after the legitimate taxpayer files. The legitimate taxpayer is then forced to spend time and money proving her innocence, setting the record straight with the IRS and protesting fines and penalties assessed because a refund was given where taxes were potentially owed. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “The National Taxpayer Advocate, an IRS watchdog group, got 55,000 requests for help with tax-identity theft in 2012.  The group has seen a 650% rise in the number of identity theft cases it handles since 2008.  And the IRS since last year has doubled to 3,000 the number of staffers working on such cases.”
  2. Employment fraud. In employment fraud, an ID thief uses a taxpayer’s name and SSN to obtain a job. When you as the employer report income for the employee to the IRS, the legitimate owner of the SSN appears to have unreported income on his or her return, leading to enforcement action.

There are steps that you can take that will minimize your chances of being affected by this growing crime. It is your responsibility to protect not only your own tax-related information, but also the sensitive data you handle on behalf of your business, employees and customers if you work in a job that requires you to handle such data.

This is the first of a three-part series in which we’ll provide you with practical checklists to help prevent tax identity theft and/or deal with it once it’s happened.

Today’s Tax-Time Identity Theft Tip: Choose a security-minded tax preparer.

Your greatest risk of identity theft during tax season comes from a surprising source: a dishonest or disorganized tax preparer. Ask yourself (and your preparer) these questions:

  • Does your tax advisor have an established track record and years of satisfied clients? Google them to find out.
  • When you visit your tax preparer’s office, are client files well protected? Do they leave tax-related folders in the open for the cleaning service to access, or are they locked in a filing cabinet or secure office? Do they meet with clients in a neutral, data-free, conference room?
  • Have you interviewed them on how they protect your private data, whether or not they have a privacy policy and if they provide employee data security training?
  • Have you expressed your desire that they take every precaution to protect your data? Asking professional tax preparers these questions sends them a message that you are watching!
  • Is your tax preparer working on a secured computer, network and Internet connection?
  • When filing W-2/W-3 and 1098/1099 tax forms, have you obtained them from a reputable source to make sure that they aren’t fraudulent?

Tax Time Identity Theft: Part 2 – Protecting Computers | Part 3 – IRS & Tax Scams

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 MinutesAnderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

12th Day: Holiday Security Tips All Wrapped up Together

Would you like to give the people you care about some peace on earth during this holiday season? Take a few minutes to pass on our 12 privacy tips that will help them protect their identities, social media, shopping and celebrating over the coming weeks. The more people that take the steps we’ve outlined in the 12 Days of Christmas, the safer we all become, collectively.

Have a wonderful holiday season, regardless of which tradition you celebrate. Now sing (and click) along with us one more time.  

On the 12th Day of Christmas, the experts gave to me:

12 Happy Holidays,

11 Private Emails,

10 Trusted Charities

9 Protected Packages

8 Scam Detectors

7 Fraud Alerts

6 Safe Celebrations

Fiiiiiiiiiiive Facebook Fixes

4 Pay Solutions

3 Stymied Hackers

2 Shopping Tips

And the Keys to Protect My Privacy

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Latest Tax Scams "Target" Data Breach Victims

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irs scam alertIt’s no surprise that identity theft once again tops the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams put forth by the IRS for 2014.  They warn that if an identity thief has access to your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number or other identifying information, he or she may use it to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund in your name.  Think of the implications for the 110 million victims of the recent Target data breach as well as victims of the hundreds of other breaches at other retailers, universities, healthcare providers, government agencies and so on.

KrebsOnSecurity reports that the information from the Target breach alone has reportedly flooded underground black markets and cards are being sold from around $20 to more than $100 each.  This data is being sold in hundreds of online “stores” advertised in cybercrime forums.  A fraud analyst at a major bank was able to buy a portion of the bank’s accounts from such a store.

The twist this year is that telephone scams are being linked to the breaches as well.  There are many variations, but most involve criminals contacting a victim saying they are from the IRS and that money is owed.  They know the victim’s personal information such as Social Security numbers (from the stolen breach data), so it is very convincing.  They may demand payment be sent immediately, threatening anything from arrest to driver’s license revocation if non-compliant.

Then here’s the kicker, there is often a follow up call supposedly from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department (with realistic numbers on the caller ID using a “spoofing” technique) to scare the victim into action even more.  So far victims in nearly every state have fallen prey to this scheme to the cost of more than $1 million.

To read more about the characteristics of these scams and how to avoid them or get help if you think you’ve been a victim of this hoax, visit the IRS website.  In the mean time, remember what IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a press release: “Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.”

Also remember to guard well your personal information.  This tax scheme is just one example of how obtaining your personal information from one source makes it easier to socially engineer you in another way.  Be wary to be on the safe side!

John Sileo   [ Expert in the Art of Human Hacking ]

At The Sileo Group we make security sticky, so that it works.
We specialize in humorously-interactive keynotes that inspire human
 responsibility around privacy, technology and business risk. Interested?
Watch John engage and change an audience at the Pentagon, discuss
ID theft on the Rachael Ray Show or just listen to our satisfied clients.

303.777.3221 | Social Engineering | Identity Theft | Mobile Technology | Internet Privacy

“Jaw dropping content laced with laughter.”  – Homeland Security

Facebook knows what you said, EVEN IF YOU DELETE B4 POSTING!

delete keySelf-censorship on Facebook

Do you ever delete the words you type on Facebook before you hit post?

Have you ever started to type a status update that you thought was hilarious…until you realized your boss might not appreciate your 8th-grade humor? So what’d you do? You quickly hit the delete key and watched your comment disappear forever, right? Not exactly.

What if you are ready to make a snarky comment to Greg, the upperclass jerk who stole your high school girlfriend (and is about to get a divorce, ha ha), but decide to take the high road just before hitting the “post” button and instead, wish him well on his pending journey of love (despite the fact that it’s bound to fail)?

No harm done, right?  You never hit the post button, so no one ever saw it! Well, it turns out that’s not quite how it works in Facebook Land.

Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, and Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, conducted a study of 5 million English-speaking Facebook users in which they studied aborted status updates, posts on other people’s timelines, and comments on others’ posts.  Specifically they looked at what they called “self-censored” texts, entries of more than five characters that were typed out, but not posted.

Now, let’s make it clear that the researchers did not reveal what the actual content of the posts they analyzed were – just how common it is for self-censorship to occur.  You see, Facebook stores information as you type, much like Gmail saves draft messages automatically as you type them.  In other words, it is definitely  possible for Facebook to store information on what you typed, whether you post it or not!

Why wouldn’t they want to see what you deleted – it’s the most honest version of what you think (and then think better of sharing as you step back a bit).

So far Facebook has not used the information for their own benefit, but they are very interested in it nonetheless.  As Das and Kramer put it: “Last-minute self-censorship is of particular interest to SNSs [social networking services] as this filtering can be both helpful and hurtful. Users and their audience could fail to achieve potential social value from not sharing certain content, and the SNS loses value from the lack of content generation.”  In other words, Facebook could be making money off of what you aren’t posting through lost advertising opportunities.

The lesson is a good one – be mindful of what you type on any social networking site, as it will always be somewhat public, permanent and powerful, EVEN IF YOU DELETE IT BEFORE POSTING. 

John Sileo makes privacy and security sticky, so that it works. He is the CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security as well as media appearances on 60 MinutesAnderson Cooper, Fox Business and The Rachael Ray Show. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Identity Theft Speaker Shares Latest Statistics on Cost of ID Theft

id theft costI got my start as an identity theft speaker. I write and speak on the importance of being vigilant about protecting yourself from identity theft and online fraud from many angles: the stress of trying to reestablish your credibility, rebuilding relationships, regaining control of your personal information, perhaps even fighting to stay out of jail as I had to do. So while I’m an identity theft speaker, my motivation is always completely human. We as humans make flawed decisions about how we fail to prepare for things like identity theft. We as humans are the ones that make the difference in fighting this crime. As it turns out, our wealth is at risk.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), there is one more important reason to be especially careful: financial implications.   In the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, identity theft cost Americans $10 billion more than all other property crimes.  To be exact, identity theft cost Americans $24.7 billion compared to just $14 billion for household burglary, motor vehicle theft, and property theft combined.  The $24 million is made up of direct losses (money thieves got by misusing a victim’s personal or account information) and indirect losses (such as legal fees and bounced checks), with the majority coming from direct losses.

Now, you wouldn’t dream of going off for the night and leaving your front door wide open, or leaving your car keys in plain sight, but how many of us do the equivalent with our identities? Do you surf on free WiFi at your favorite café, while in the airport or at your hotel? Have you locked down your smartphone with a passcode, limited location tracking and turned on the built-in privacy and security settings? Have you ever customized the share settings in your favorite social network? Maybe not.

Here are some key points from the BJS report:

  • 85% of theft incidents involved the fraudulent use of existing accounts, rather than the use of somebody’s name to open a new account.
  • People whose names were used to open new accounts were more likely to experience financial hardship, emotional distress, and even problems with their relationships, than people whose existing accounts were manipulated.
  • Half of identity theft victims lost $100 or more.
  • Americans who were in households making $75,000 or more were more likely to experience identity theft than lower-income households.

Identity thieves have also begun targeting smartphone and social media users, knowing that user ignorance and the learning curve associated with using sites make it easy to hit the bull’s-eye.

In addition, the increase in occurrences of data breaches puts us even more at risk.   Javelin Strategy & Research found that someone who is a victim of an online data breach becomes 9.5 times more likely to have their identity stolen.

For solutions to these and many other identity theft and data breach problems, check out identity theft speaker John Sileo’s book, Privacy Means Profit: Prevent Identity Theft and Secure Your Bottom Line.

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 MinutesAnderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Top Tips for Tax ID Theft Prevention: Part 3

Don't get hit by tax ID theft

Tax Time Identity Theft: Part 1 – Tax Preparers | Part 2 – Protecting Computers | Part 3 – IRS & Tax Scams

Stop falling for IRS and tax ID theft scams.

Because we are distracted during tax season, we are primed to be socially engineered or manipulated by tax scams and can end up becoming the victim of tax ID theft. Here’s how to combat the problem:

  • When someone asks for your SSN, TIN or other ID, refuse until you verify their legitimacy.
  • If someone promises to drastically reduce your tax bill or speed up your tax return, suspect fraud and tax ID theft.
  • If anyone asks you for information in order to send you your check, they are scamming for your identity. The IRS already knows where you live (and where to send your refund).
  • Know that the IRS will NEVER email you for any reason. The IRS emphasizes that it doesn’t “initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.” This includes “any type of electronic communications, such as text messages and social-media channels.”
  • In case you are caught in a tax-related identity theft scam, make sure you subscribe to a sophisticated privacy and identity theft monitoring software to protect your back and help you recover from the mess.

Protect your non-digital sources of identity theft.Tax ID Theft is Rampant

A lot of tax ID theft happens in physical forms. Take a few minutes to defend the following common sources of ID theft:

  • Pay your taxes with checks that can’t be easily washed, altered or counterfeited.
  • Mail safely. Tax documents are easy to spot and commonly stolen out of the mail. Send your tax return by certified mail so that you know it has arrived safely and is transported with greater care.
  • Consider filing electronically so that you remove mail theft from the equation.
  • Shred all tax-related documents that you no longer need.

If you feel that you are a victim of tax-time identity theft, contact the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, ext 245. You can also get in touch with the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service at 877-777-4778. Most importantly, begin taking the preventative steps above now, as it will be too late when filing season is upon us. The sooner you get started, the greater your peace of mind and data security.

Tax Time Identity Theft: Part 1 – Tax Preparers | Part 2 – Protecting Computers

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and cyber security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 MinutesAnderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Target Data Breach Touches 40 Million In-Store Shoppers

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If you are one of the 40 million customers who have used a credit or debit card at Target stores in the United States between November 27 and December 15, you’d better start checking your accounts for fraudulent activity.  Target confirmed that the data stored on the magnetic strip of cards (customer names, debit or credit card numbers, and card expiration dates) were taken, along with the three-digit security codes  (CVVs) often imprinted on the backs of cards.

The type of data stolen would allow thieves to create counterfeit credit cards and, if pin numbers were intercepted, would also allow thieves to withdraw cash from ATM machines.  Only in store purchases are at risk, so online shoppers need not worry.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder would not comment on how customers’ data were stored or encrypted prior to the attack, saying that would be part of the ongoing investigation.  Target immediately notified law enforcement authorities and financial institutions, and the issue is being investigated by the Secret Service and a third-party forensics firm.

This breach is one of the largest ever of American consumer data, nearly matching that of TJX (TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores), which experienced a data breach in 2007 that affected more than 45 million customers.  2013 has been a particularly bad year for breaches overall.  Overall, one in four Americans have been told that some personally identifiable information has been lost or compromised because of data breaches, according to a recent report from Experian, and the pace of attacks is expected to continue rising through 2014.

In a letter sent to Target customers, Target officials say those who have noticed irregular activity on their accounts should call the firm at 866-852-8680.  In addition, all Target shoppers should:

  1. Review their credit card activity online on a daily basis to monitor for suspicious activity.
  2. Set up automatic account alerts with your credit card provider to quickly detect any misuse of cards.
  3. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to see if there are any newly established, fraudulent accounts set up.
  4. Cancel your credit card if they notice any suspicious behavior. If it’s a debit card, I would cancel it no matter what given that it connects directly to your bank account. Make sure to transfer balances, miles and to switch any auto-pay accounts to the new card.
  5. Freeze your credit with the 3 credit scoring bureaus.
  6. Consider ID Theft monitoring services to help you keep track of abusive behavior of your information online.

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to defend the data that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

10 Times NOT To Use Your Debit Cards this Holiday Season!

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do not use debit cardAs you head into the holiday season, one of the best steps you can take to protect your bank account is to eliminate the use of your debit card. While delivering a keynote speech in Washington DC last week, someone asked me if I could name ten times when you should NOT use a debit card.  I replied, “It’s a trick question because the answer is NEVER!” I seriously do feel that way, but I know there are people who either need to or prefer to use a debit card rather than a credit card or cash, so I want you to be informed about how to use it wisely.

First, make sure you understand the difference between a credit and debit card.  While they appear identical and can often be used interchangeably, remember that a debit card is a direct line to your bank account.  If a thief gets ahold of your debit card information, they essentially have access to your account.  One of the biggest differences comes to light when fraud occurs.  Credit card users can simply decline the charges and not pay the bill.  Debit card fraud comes straight out of your bank account and is much harder to fight or reclaim the money that as been debited. In the meantime, while you prove it was fraud, you’re out the cash.

Here is a Top Ten List of times to choose credit over debit.

10. Booking future travel

If you book your travel with a debit card, they debit your account immediately,. So if you’re buying travel or making a reservation that you won’t use for several months, you’ll be out the money immediately.  Also consider that many large hotels have suffered data breaches.

9. Hotels

Many hotels follow the practice of using your debit card to place a hold on your money (sometimes hundreds of dollars) to make sure you don’t run up a long distance bill, empty the mini bar or trash the room. The practice is almost unnoticeable if you’re using credit, but can be problematic if you’re using a debit card and have just enough in the account to cover what you need.  Be sure to ask about their “holding” policy if you are using a debit card.

8. Expensive purchases

This one is simple.  If something goes wrong with the merchandise or the purchase, a credit card offers rights to dispute and stop payments much easier than a debit card. You have a much shorter window for reporting and resolving an issue and may even be responsible for all charges if you wait too long.

7. Rental or security deposits.

Say you want to rent a car or borrow a Bobcat from your local home improvement store.  Remember that when you use a debit card to put down a deposit, that money is temporarily unavailable to you.  Of course, you’ll get the money back when you return the car or equipment, so this is no big deal if you have the money to spare until that time. But with a credit card, the money is just “frozen” and not actually charged so you won’t ever notice it’s gone.

6. Regular/recurring payments

You’ve heard about someone who quit a gym or discontinued a magazine subscription only to find that they kept getting billed. If you used a debit card for those payments, they’ll just keep coming right out of your bank account.  (Using a credit card is also a good way to ensure you don’t forget to make that monthly debit in your check register!)

5. Wi-Fi hot spots

Never use your debit card for an online purchase while at a coffee shop or other business that offers free wi-fi access.  Many of those businesses have unsecured wireless connections, so it’s much easier for hackers and scammers to log on and steal your data.

4. Restaurants

Anytime the card leaves your sight, you should NOT use your debit card. The waiter coming to your table has alone time with your card, giving them the opportunity to copy your card information.

This also applies to ordering food for delivery.  Restaurants that deliver tend to keep customer payment information on file in order to make future orders more convenient.

Another problem with using a debit card at restaurants is that some establishments will approve the card for more than your purchase amount because, presumably, you intend to leave a tip. So the amount of money frozen for the transaction could be quite a bit more than the amount of your tab. And it could be a few days before you get the cash back in your account.

3. Outdoor ATMs

Outdoor ATM machines provide the perfect opportunity for thieves to skim users’ debit cards.  Skimming is the practice of capturing a bank customer’s card information by running it through a machine that reads the card’s magnetic strip. Criminals place these machines over the real card slots at ATMs and other card terminals.  If the public has access to it, so do data criminals.  Use the ATM just inside the bank where it is under constant surveillance. And no matter what, look for devices or cameras on the ATM machine that aren’t normally there.

2. Gas stations

Every gas pump asks, “Credit or Debit?” these days.  Don’t choose the debit option!  Go inside and pay cash if you choose not to use your credit card!  There are three reasons.  One, it’s fairly easy for a thief to insert a skimmer and then sit nearby with a laptop accessing your information.  Even if the thief doesn’t manage to get your debit card personal identification number, or PIN, from such a device, he still may be able to duplicate the card’s magnetic strip and use it for “sign and swipe” Visa or MasterCard transactions.

Thieves can also sit nearby using small cameras to capture footage of debit card users entering their PINs. Finally, similar to the hotel example above, your debit card may be used to place a hold for an amount larger than your actual purchase.   So, even though you only bought $10 in gas, you could have a temporary bank hold for $50 to $100, says Susan Tiffany, director of consumer periodicals for the Credit Union National Association.

1. Online

Using you debit card online is like asking for your bank account to be emptied. There is just way too much potential for hacking at many different points in a transaction.  It could occur due to malware on the computer, someone could be “eavesdropping” via a wireless network, or it could happen once in the hands of the merchant due to a data breach.  If you have a problem with the purchase or your debit card number is stolen, it’s a huge hassle to get the money restored to your account and make your card number safe and secure again.

Keep it simple and just always use a credit card. I realize that it is easier to spend more money when it’s not coming directly out of your account, but it’s better to resist the temptation to spend for the added security provided. 

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging keynote speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Welcome to the Surveillance Economy!

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traffic camera3It seems I’ve spent a lot of time lately writing about the Surveillance Economy.  This may be a strange expression to some, so I’ll define it as the use and exploitation of our location information derived from traffic surveillance cameras, new technologies like Google Glass and cell phone GPS tracking, among others.  Recent topics we’ve covered include the NSA PRISM scandal, hacking Google Glass, Homeland Security’s seizures of electronic devices when crossing borders, and even drone use.  Some of those may seem to be out there in a world that doesn’t affect us directly, but here’s one that hits very close to home for anyone who owns a vehicle.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a report in July of 2013 entitled You Are Being Tracked that outlines the use of automatic license plate readers.  These devices, which can be mounted on police cars or on objects like road signs or overpasses, use small, high-speed cameras to photograph thousands of plates per minute.  They effectively collect and store information about not only vehicles of potential or known criminals, but everybody who drives a car!

The study shows that the number of license tag captures has reached the millions and that police departments can keep the records for several years or even indefinitely.  Unlike using GPS to track a car (for which a judge’s approval is needed according to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling), there are very few regulations in place governing license plate readers.  In fact, only five states have such laws.  Click here to see a map that lets you see how police in your state use license plate readers to track people’s movements.

Proponents assert that gathering such information aids in criminal investigations and is crucial sometimes in going back to solve a crime because the data can be used to place criminals at the scene.   It is also extremely efficient because officers can “maintain a normal patrol stance” while capturing up to 7,000 license plate images in a single eight-hour shift.  Harvey Eisenberg, assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, said, “At a time of fiscal and budget constraints, we need better assistance for law enforcement.”

The program in Maryland read approximately 29 million plates in a five month period last year  and 1 in 500 of those were suspicious. Many of these were wanted for petty crimes such as having a suspended or revoked registration, or for violating the state’s emissions inspection program, but advocates stress the information could be used for aiding drug busts, finding abducted children and more.  It would even enable the IRS to verify tax deductible mileage claims against license plate scans.

The ACLU, however, argues that this “collect it all” approach that law enforcement seems to have has made it easier to create a “single, high-resolution image of our lives, whether we are guilty or not.  When you combine license surveillance with phone records, Google searches, drone images, street cameras, etc., is there really any way we can protect our privacy as innocent citizens?

The ACLU is calling for adoption of legislation and law enforcement policies that adheres to these principles:

  • License plate readers may be used by law enforcement agencies only to investigate hits and in other circumstances in which law enforcement agents reasonably believe that the plate data are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
  • The government must not store data about innocent people for any lengthy period. Unless plate data has been flagged, retention periods should be measured in days or weeks, not months and certainly not years.
  • People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.
  • Law enforcement agencies should not share license plate reader data with third parties that do not follow proper retention and access principles. They should also be transparent regarding with whom they share license plate reader data.
  • Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on at least an annual basis.

History shows us that the mass collection of detailed citizen information (even if the purpose isn’t known at the time of the collection) generally ends up being used unethically by those in power. I was reminded of that recently when I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp. Those in power at the time surveillance begins aren’t necessarily those who will abuse it in the future. Consider yourself, as a voter, forewarned and forearmed. I’d let your Congressperson know your thoughts.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.