In today’s cashless culture, nearly all of our purchases (including those new ankle-boot beauties) are paid for via credit card. But with all the identity theft and hacking in the headlines, there are plenty of reasons to give pause.
So we tapped Shaun Murphy, former privacy and security expert for the Department of Defense, for his tips on when you should use alternate forms of payment to avoid risk. Here’s where to think twice before swiping.
1. Online Shopping Sites That Aren’t Secure: It seems obvious, but many of us are guilty of giving up our card numbers without checking on the security of the site. Before you enter your digits, look for the green lock icon (without any overlays) at the front of the site’s URL.
2. Gas Pumps and Self-Checkout Stations: These places are sweet targets for credit-card skimming devices that can sit there for months without anyone noticing. They’re small, not obvious to the average customer and easy for criminals to retrieve or install in a matter of minutes.
3. Outdoor ATMs and Pay Terminals: Avoid using ATMs that are out in the open (on the sidewalk, in the corner store) whenever you can. And when you have to use them, at least be sure to cover the PIN pad while entering your information—you never know who’s lurking behind you or if there’s a hidden camera nearby. Outdoor stations, including fast-food drive-throughs, are prime locations for hidden skimmer devices.
4. Cell-Phone Charging Stations: We know what it’s like to have a dead battery, but swiping your card to get access to free charging stations at the airport could be putting you in danger. These kiosks are ripe for skimming and nefarious card-information storage, and have also been known to dump the information from your cell phone while charging. It’s called juice jacking.
5. Desktop or Mobile Applications: Watch out for apps and pop-ups on your computer and phone that ask for credit-card info outside of the official program or app store. Things like “You have a virus—please deposit $10” or “Your files have been encrypted and can be unlocked for a certain price.” You’ve probably seen at least one of these threats before. It might seem obvious, but be alert and don’t fall for these traps.
So how should you pay? Murphy suggests using cold, hard cash or prepaid reloadable cards that aren’t linked to any personal financial information. As the old saying goes, buyer beware.