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Cash only: how to protect yourself from a data breach

Updated on August 1, 2015
erinshelby profile image

Erin Shelby is passionate about living a lifestyle that aims for financial freedom. She writes about personal finance and other topics.

An unauthorized person accesses your personal information during a data breach.
An unauthorized person accesses your personal information during a data breach. | Source

Have you ever been the victim of a data breach? Were you a victim of the Target data breach, Neiman Marcus credit card breach, Michaels data breach or Sally Beauty Supply data breach? Data breaches and identity theft are all too common in today's world. With computers storing vast amounts of personal information, theft need not occur in person. Credit cards, debit cards and checks are information that can destroy a person’s financial life if placed in the wrong hands. Here’s what you need to know about data breaches and how to protect yourself from a data breach.

What is a data breach?

In general, a data breach is when sensitive information is stolen from its rightful owner and reaches the hands of someone who should not have access to it. Data breaches can be accidental – such as an employee accidentally leaving a computer open, only to have an unauthorized person steal it – or they may be intentional, such as the large-scale DSW, Target data breach or Sally Beauty Supply attempted data breach. Data breaches are problematic for several reasons.

Why should I care about a data breach?

Consider a data breach as identity theft – what is done with the information will determine its impact on your life. What will occur if your name and social security number are used to open a fraudulent checking account? What will happen if you have good credit and a thief uses your information to obtain a car loan but never makes the payments? What if this thief uses your debit card and depletes your life savings? The consequences can be devastating.

This is crime scene during many data breaches.
This is crime scene during many data breaches. | Source

What happened during the Target data breach?

Starting on Black Friday in 2013, this incident was, according to "Good Morning America", “one of the largest data breaches of all time.” 40 million credit card numbers used in Target stores were stolen, along with each customer's name and the card expiration date. The Target data breach occurred over a period of less than a month and it is believed that the theft occurred through devices placed on cash registers in the stores. According to "Good Morning America", with the information the Target data breach thief or thieves have obtained, a fraudulent credit card can be created.

What happened during the DSW data breach?

DSW, a designer discount shoe store, is no stranger to data troubles. The DSW data breach was similar but impacted a smaller number of customers. This case also involved a wider variety of customer information. 280,000 unsuspecting shoe lovers had their personal information stolen, most likely through stolen IDs and passwords. 96,000 customers using checks had their check numbers and driver’s license numbers compromised. 1.4 million customers were the victims of their credit card numbers being exposed. Credit card numbers, checking account numbers, driver’s license numbers, IDs and passwords are the perfect combination for a thief's paradise.

Paying with cash prevents thieves from obtaining your credit card number.
Paying with cash prevents thieves from obtaining your credit card number. | Source

Target data breach, Neiman Marcus credit card breach

Target was thrust into the media spotlight when a data breach was discovered during the 2013 Christmas shopping season. The number of customers impacted was larger than originally announced. Shortly after the actual number of victims was disclosed, it was reported that high-end retailer Neiman Marcus also experienced a credit card breach.

Michaels data breach investigation

On January 25, 2014, arts and crafts chain Michaels announced that it may have experienced a data breach. In a letter posted on its website, Michaels CEO Chuck Rubin informed customers of an investigation being conducted with the assistance of law enforcement officials. The number of potential victims was not disclosed but the letter to Michaels customers stated that the company "recently learned of possible fraudulent activity." Michaels customers believing that they were impacted by the data breach are advised to contact their bank and order a free credit report from TransUnion, Experian or Equifax.

How can I protect myself from a data breach?

Finance guru Dave Ramsey, author of Financial Peace, advocates paying cash to stay on a budget using “the envelope system”. This method of staying on budget also happens to be an excellent way to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a data breach. While some expenses are more convenient to pay using a credit card – such as electricity or internet – other expenses, such as gasoline, groceries, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses – are more easily tracked using cash instead of credit.

Have you ever been the victim of a data breach or identity theft?

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© 2013 erinshelby


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    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 3 years ago from United States

      Quildon, the info breaches are becoming so common I fear we'll keep seeing them in the news. Stay vigilant!

    • quildon profile image

      Angela Joseph 3 years ago from Florida

      I wasn't aware that those other stores you mentioned were breached as well. I am still one of the cashless ones, but after reading this I'm pulling out the envelopes. Voted up and useful!

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 4 years ago from United States

      Online payments are easy and they are so helpful when a bill is about to become overdue. Unfortunately, as Target, DSW and now Neiman Marcus customers are finding, checking your bank statements is really important because this type of thing can happen no matter where you shop.

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 4 years ago from California

      I use cash a lot, but sometimes I can't help but to have to pay for something online.

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 4 years ago from United States

      The house can crumble quickly... and right before Christmas? Quite a grinch was at work!

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 4 years ago from United States

      Somehow I seem to spend less when I'm using cash. I'm glad this was useful to you.

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 4 years ago from United States

      FlourishAnyway, It's infuriating when your personal information has been stolen! I hope this information has helped you in some way.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      This is very timely and interesting information. It's frightening to think about how this electronic house of cards we've constructed can come crashing down so easily. Great hub!

    • electronician profile image

      Dean Walsh 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I always try to use cash whenever possible for the reason you mention - it helps me budget. If I use cards then I always lose track of how much I am spending, whereas when I take x amount out of a cashpoint I know exactly how much of it I have spent. Excellent hub btw, lots of useful info. Voted up and shared.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Your advice from the expert who says cash only is on target (no pun intended). I have been breached mNy times and am sick of it.