Michaels is the latest retailer to report a large-scale data hack, saying 2.6 million customers may have been impacted in their announcement on April 17. This comes only a few months after Target’s massive, pre-Christmas data breach, leaving people feeling pretty uncomfortable about using their credit cards.
Regardless, the potential threat that hacking presents to consumers' personal information doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Robert Siciliano, a McAfee online security expert, says cybercrime costs Americans tens of billions annually, and may be a $1 trillion global problem. Here are five easy ways to stay ahead of the hackers.
1. Lock your cell phone. Sure it's annoying to punch in four digits every time you want to use your phone, which is probably dozens of times a day (at least). But that's a minor inconvenience compared to the huge hassle that awaits if someone snatches it and steals your sensitive data.
2. Think before you post on social media sites. Business websites often require you to answer security questions before you can log in, or when you want to change your password. But the questions are relatively common ones, such as asking your mother's maiden name or the name of your first pet. If you've reminisced about your beloved childhood dog on Facebook, or given a shout-out to your mom, Jane Doe Smith, via Twitter, savvy hackers can use this info to hijack your accounts.
3. Check your credit card accounts daily. Amazingly, nine out of 10 people never check their credit card statements before paying the charges, says McAfee's Siciliano. But you can't catch unauthorized charges if you don’t read your statements. Siciliano recommends viewing your accounts daily or at least weekly to look for suspicious charges, since customers typically have 60 days to refute them.
4. Opt for credit rather than debit. It may seem safer to use your debit card -- you have to punch in a PIN number, after all -- but Siciliano says debit card hackers have access to your actual funds. Additionally, debit card companies generally only give you two days to refute erroneous charges. So use credit, and check your bank account frequently as well.
5. Protect your passwords. It's too difficult to create (and remember) a gazillion unique, unusual passwords, which is probably why an Adobe security breach in October found that the most common customer passwords were 123456, 123456789 and password. Combat this problem with a password manager such as 1Password or RoboForm. These products create and store complex passwords for all of your accounts. You simply create and remember one master password to use the program.