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What does it mean, data breaches and credit compromises?

The newspapers are full of it. Television is full of it. Your mail box is full of it. The red flags are waving hoping that consumers will be fearful enough to fork over money to buy protection.

What’s all the fuss about? Personal data protection and recent data breaches. Example? Target stores! Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, it is estimated that 40 million credit and debit cards were compromised. Add Neiman Marcus, Marriott and many others to that total and the numbers are truly shocking.

Some of the frauds that we are seeing right now are feeding, fraud upon fraud, the hysteria.

Before you sign up for credit monitoring, identity protection plans or other forms of “we’re here to help you” pitches, you need to gain a full understanding of what the problem is, what your rights are, and how you can best approach a low-cost or no-cost solution. You must also determine exactly what you are buying. Your choice becomes, “Do I want to pay someone $120 a year to do something that I can easily do myself if I take the necessary time to understand the problem?”

Let’s begin with what a Target-like data breach actually means. It means that your magnetic stripe information was compromised. That may be your name, your address and your credit card number (used in that particular transaction.) Depending upon the card, it might include your email or other tidbits of identifying information. The magnetic stripe does not include your social security card number, your mother’s maiden name or the name of your first pet.

If you are notified of a credit breach, get proactive. If you are internet savvy, immediately check (and repeat often) your account for any unusual activity. If you are not savvy, call your card company or issuing bank and request help. Remember, too, that you do not have to sign on the dotted line for a “Free Credit Report.” Federal law gives you the right to order each of your three credit reports once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com. By staggering these requests every four months you encounter no cost.

Still, if you do choose the monitoring-for-money pathway, make sure you are dealing with a legitimate service. Pfishing operations thrive on posing as help organizations.

While old-time burglars were somewhat limited by geography, that is not the case with computer hackers. We live in dangerous times. It’s possible that a hacker from 10,000 miles away can be transmitting your information down the food chain within seconds of stealing it from cyberspace.

The next stop of this lightning speed train is the white plastic station, the one that copies your magnetic stripe information onto a duplicate credit card. The train then delivers those cards (or the information from a phantom card) to users — those who make purchases of goods that can be turned into cash. There are no longer any neighborhood limitations — the entire globe is one big sub-division.

BIG topic. Small space.

Drop by the Pahrump Valley Times offices, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd., for a copy of Leslie Kim’s latest book “123 Main Street … the Scamming of America.” Only $19.95 while supplies last.

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