With the recent news of major retailers being hacked, do you feel safe using credit cards this holiday season?
You might feel safer with some simple advice from the United States Secret Service.
Audrey Romano says she shops at Target up to three times a week. After last year's security breach, she found more than $1,000 in fraudulent charges on her bill for things like “men's pants and five gift cards for $200 each.”
With 691 breach investigations in 2013, the number of investigates jumped 54 percent over the previous year, according to this year’s Trustwave Global Security Report, which cites the Secret Service.
“It's a fraud and so what the criminals are trying to get is yours or my financial information,” U.S. Secret Service Agent Kathy Michalko said.
According to the security report, the retail industry has been compromised more than any other, with cyber criminals constantly looking for flaws in their systems.
“The companies put in a security feature, then they will try to find a way to overcome that security feature,” Michalko added.
The Secret Service says security breaches can also occur when businesses don't change a default username and password after a vendor installs payment equipment.
Just last week, Home Depot blamed its breach on criminals who got a hold of third-party vendor usernames and passwords. Some 53 million customers' emails were stolen in addition to credit card information.
Michalko identified some devices criminals have bought online to steal debit and credit card information.
One device is used to create fake credit cards using a stolen number. In one case, the Secret Service seized a box of fraudulent cards.
Then there's the skimmer, a device criminals attach to an ATM machine or gas pump to steal customers' credit and debit card numbers.
They're then sold in underground criminal chat rooms. Michalko says each stolen number can sell from three to 40-dollars depending on the credit card.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
For starters, Michalko says, use only one credit card over the holidays.
“Then you can quickly monitor your statement and all your transactions that you know you've done are in one place.”
Next, contact your credit card company and set up an alert.
“So if it's a transaction that's done online, I want an alert sent to my phone,” Michalko said.
And change your passwords now, then again immediately after the holiday season.
“There's no 100 percent way for any of us to be safe nowadays but what you can do is try to manage your risk,” she said.
Make sure to look at your credit card account online, or check the paper statements to check that you really made all those purchases.