Goodbye Old Friend. Why a Major Retailer May Make Me Change My Buying Habits.

Last month, Americans were dismayed to learn that one of the biggest retailers, Target, had their computers hacked and the financial information of millions of customers was at risk for fraud. According to official releases from , payment cards (debit and credit cards) used only in Target stores, between November 27th and December 15th were the subjects of unauthorized access and that name, address, card information and the security codes were acquired by thieves who then began selling them on the black market. This opens you up to having someone else use your accounts.

I was positive that I had not used my card at Target during the time period mentioned and felt that I was pretty safe.

Imagine my surprise when I received a new debit card in the mail from my bank claiming that my card was used at Target and that my information may have been compromised. It has a new account number, new expiration date and new security code. But not a new Pin- this puzzled me.

Reports about the Target breach have been all over the news including initial reports that the pin numbers had not been accessed and then reports they were but encrypted and inaccessible.

I am rather upset that my bank sent me this new card. Do they have any idea how many hours it will take me to change the card number on all the accounts that I shop with, have subscriptions with and sites I use regularly? My conservative estimate is about 30-40 hours. That is as much time as I give to my employer in a week. And I have 14 days to make all the changes and then my old card will be deactivated. What happens if I forget one or more? I shudder to think of what I might forget.... Like my mail order prescription medications (Hold on...I have to write that one down!!)

I suppose that I should be happy that my bank scoured my records (and the thousands of other customers they have) to see that in the time period in question I shopped at Target ONCE and have taken protective measures. But I am not. I have had this same number for almost 10 years and it is comfortable- like an old friend. Goodbye old friend.

So now, I am wondering what I can do to further protect myself.

  • Using credit cards exclusively is one way. There are greater protections when using credit vs. debit cards- debit cards limit your liability to $500 lost and credit cards are only $50-zero if you report it quickly.
  • I could get a prepaid debit card to use in place of my checking account debit card- that way I can never lose more than I have loaded on the card. Many of these come with lots of fees and will cost me money in the long run- more than I might lose if my information has been compromised? I will have to think about that.
  • I could write a check freeing up more spending than the cash I have in my wallet (which lately is almost nothing) but the ID that is required-usually driver's license number written on the check – opens me up to identity theft as that piece of paper goes through so many hands before reaching the bank.
  • I am seriously thinking of going back to using cash. I can only buy as much as the amount of cash I have in my pocket. I'll have to be more vigilant about planning my shopping trips and estimating the amount of money I need. I bet I'll save a significant amount of money over the long term.

It is ironic that the cards that were marketed to be a safer and easier alternative to carrying around cash and checks are now not secure.

The US is more than a decade behind Europe in requiring a "chip" based card over the magnetic strip cards that makes the breach at companies like Target and others virtually impossible. Breaches of secure financial information is reported more frequently than you might think-it takes a large breach of a major popular retailer like Target to bring it back into our conscience.

You will have to decide the best option for you-whether to change the way you pay or goods and services or to continue to roll the dice on possible security breaches. As for me....I will make up my mind after I see how long it takes me to memorize my new card number.