With cyber breaches on rise, learn how to protect data

February 13, 2014

ANGOLA, Ind. – Recent cyber breaches at retailers Target, Neiman Marcus and Michael's have dominated headlines, but shoppers aren't changing their habits, a new study reports. While shoppers might not be ready to carry cash instead of credit cards, they can take a few simple steps to protect themselves.

An Associated Press–GfK Poll released in late January found American shoppers say they are very concerned about the safety of their personal information after the massive security breach at Target, but many are not taking steps to ensure their data is more secure.

On Feb. 4, CNN reported that White Lodging – an Indiana company that maintains Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton and Westin hotel franchises – has apparently suffered a data breach that exposed guests' credit and debit card information in 2013.

"Shoppers cannot afford to be complacent because shopping at online and brick-and-mortar stores has become hazardous," said Bill Barge, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics & Informatics at Trine University. "The good news is that an investment of your time can ward off a loss or enable you to learn more quickly if there's a problem."

Barge suggests these tips:

1. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Under federal law, personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can't exceed $50. However, when a debit card is used, the bank account can be drained. The amount of liability depends on how quickly the victim reports fraudulent charges.

2. Sign up for fraud controls at the bank. Many banks will send text message alerts when there are withdrawals that exceed a set amount. Set the amount high enough to avoid alerts about every purchase, but low enough to catch unauthorized purchases. An amount between $500 and $1,000 would be a good starting point. While these fraud controls might not catch each fraudulent transaction, they will alert victims if someone makes a large purchase.

3. Check your statements. Verify that all charges on bank and/or credit card statements are valid. If something does not look right, immediately contact your bank or credit card provider.

"Using a free service from my bank, I have it set up to get a text message when there is a withdrawal or deposit. For added security, I also have the online account set up so that I get a text message with a secret PIN that I need to type into the website in order to access the account online," Barge said.

Check your financial institution's website, or talk with a bank representative to learn what fraud services are available, he said.

It was a family member's bad experience that led Barge to find the service. "I set it up after someone drained a relative's bank account," he said. "Between the time she opened the account and the time the initial order of checks arrived, someone used her account to make an online purchase. She found out when she received a letter from the bank stating that she had to pay an overdraft charge." "They changed her account and she did get her money back, but it does change your behavior," he said.

Speaking of behavior, one habit that individuals should reconsider is using free wireless internet, or WiFi. "I can't caution enough against using free WiFi at coffee shops and restaurants to check email, access bank sites and make online purchases," Barge said. "The wrong person with the right tools can pull a lot of information from your use of free wireless."

Security breaches and identity theft are growing concerns that have increased demand for individuals with cybersecurity skills. In October, Trine University announced it is adding a major in cybersecurity. The Jannen School of Arts & Sciences will offer a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity in fall 2014.

The major will be grounded in science and mathematics in addition to courses in criminal justice, psychology, ethics, communication and electives. The Department of Homeland Security defines cyber security as the protection of computers and computer systems against unauthorized attacks or intrusion.

For more information about Trine University's major in cybersecurity, call the Office of Admission at 260.665.4100 or contact professor Bill Barge at bargeb@trine.edu or 260.665.4298.

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