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Holiday Shopping, Fraud, and Safety

As the holiday shopping rush approaches, the number of incidents related to fraudulent credit card use, identity theft, and similar security breaches tend to rise in tandem.

Here are credit card safety tips that all retailers that accept credit cards — and consumers who use them — should abide by this holiday season.christmas tree with presents

Never write card numbers on paper.

If a retailer’s credit card processing equipment is temporarily “down,” opt to pay with cash, a check — or forego the purchase altogether. Consumers should never allow a retailer to write a card number on a piece of paper for later processing. Likewise, retailers should never allow staff to do so, regardless of how long the delays at the point of sale become due to slow card processors. Not only is it an increased risk that the sensitive data will fall into the wrong hands, it’s a violation of Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance standards.

Protect your card from skimmers.

Credit card data thieves use a technique known as skimming to infiltrate sensitive credit card data, including numbers, expiration dates and security codes, without having to steal the physical credit card. As the experts at PC World explain, thieves often initiate this kind of fraud by placing an electronic magnetic strip reader over a legitimate device (like a card reader at an ATM or at the point of sale), or may use a device that “skims” card information from a distance. If successful, they’ll obtain the information they need to use a card fraudulently — while the credit card remains seemingly protected and safe in the cardholder’s wallet.

Mitigate the risks of being “skimmed” by staying aware of card activity at all times. Sign up for text message alerts and emails for real-time notification of card activity. When you’re at the point of sale, be aware of who is nearby. Keep credit cards within in your line of vision when you’re shopping, to make it more difficult for skimmers to access your information from afar.

Avoid using third-party operated ATM machines (like those located in a restaurant), and/or paying at the pump gas station terminals, when possible (which are often easiest for thieves to intercept because they’re unattended). If you must withdraw cash, visit your bank branch or withdraw money from an ATM that is part of your bank’s branch office.

Retailers can protect their customers by conducting consistent and frequent security checks at point of sale devices. As PCWorld experts explain, a task as simple as running a finger along the terminal can help to detect suspicious manipulation of the equipment that has taken place.

Use smartcard/EMV point of technology when available.

Merchants were given an Oct. 2015 deadline to adapt their point-of-sale equipment to accommodate EMV smartcards, which provide enhanced security at the point of sale. Consumers can minimize the likelihood that they’ll be impacted by a data breach by using the card’s new smart chip feature. (Insert the card into the terminal for a few seconds for verification, instead of swiping.) Merchants who haven’t yet adopted EMV point-of-sale terminals due to cost or infrastructure issues should investigate ways to do so, even if it’s by way of mobile payment devices that are equipped to process EMV smartcards. (Should a data breach take place, the vendor offering the lowest level of card security in the transaction could be held liable.)

Never check on your finances without a secure Wi-Fi connection.

You may be tempted to access a personal finance app or your credit card’s activity via online banking to stay on budget during holiday shopping sprees — but do so only when you can connect to secure, password-protected Wi-Fi. Merchants should also educate their staff on the importance of processing payments only when a private connection is available; public Wi-Fi “hotspots” are easy for data thieves and cybercriminals to intercept.

Holiday shopping season is full of excitement for retailers and consumers — but it presents added responsibility to keep card data safe. Follow these simple tips to make sure that all of your credit card transactions are kept secure during the holiday season, and beyond.

Shop Online at sites you know.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm. She has more than 20 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, marketing and sales management. Follow her on Twitter at @BluePay_CMO.

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