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The Scary Truth About Credit Cards The Banks Don’t Want You To Know

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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And 5 top tips on how to use bank cards safely when shopping online this Christmas

With the first spike in the holiday shopping expected today, November 25, IT security firm AlienVault has highlighted some of the most frightening facts about credit cards and gives some important advice for consumers during the busiest shopping time of the year.

In the UK last year, there were 56 million credit cards and 88 million debit cards in circulation and fraud losses on these cards totalled £450.4 million. With 75% of all UK retail spend resulting from debit card purchases, it is no wonder card fraud is a lucrative business for cyber criminals.

The rise of ‘vishing’

Online banking fraud increased by 3% to £40.9 million last year – intelligence shows this increase has also been driven by the rise in ‘vishing’, where fraudsters try to gain personal information from consumers by making phone calls purporting to be a bank or other trusted source and tricking the consumer into revealing personal information.

credit card devilRuss Spitler, vice president of product strategy at AlienVault, said: “What it comes down to is information. With enough personal details on an individual, fraudsters are able to open additional credit cards and to take control of your assets by combining the stolen information with other information acquired from social engineering. Personal details and stolen credit card data is freely sold on Black Markets where criminals trade in your information.”

“The best tip of all is to be suspicious of attempts to acquire your personal information. No need to wear a tinfoil hat, but it’s a good idea to safeguard your personal information and to treat it as a personal asset,” continued Spitler”

Naturally, November and December are busy shopping periods for Britons as one-fifth (21%) of the yearly online sales will occur during this period and it is estimated that 24% of these online sales in the UK during the Christmas season will come from a smartphone or a tablet. As such, Spitler from AlienVault urges shoppers to be wary of the websites where they buy their gifts.

Often, when we look for presents we find ourselves on smaller websites without the appropriate security measures. “Be sure to check that you have an encrypted connection by checking the lock icon next to the URL in your browser window,” said Spitler. “Then be careful not to store your payment information on websites you will not frequently use. Storing your data just increases your risk of exposure.”

In addition, as an alternative to cards, AlienVault recommends exploring Near Field Communication (NFC) payment options such as Google wallet and Apple Pay when making purchases in store.

“A contactless payment option is inherently more secure because your actual credit card information isn’t used,” said Spitler. “The major breaches we have seen in the last year such as Target and Home Depot where hackers took advantage of point of sale software and stole credit card information as it was transmitted. The new NFC payment options are designed to protect against this and your personal information is never even revealed to the retailer.”

In summary, this holiday shopping season is bound to be a busy one. With consumers in a rush and more strapped for time than ever, security is not bound to be on the top of the list of priorities, but with these simple tips, they can reduce their chances of becoming helpless victims to credit card fraudsters.

1) Be wary of social engineering and attempts to gain personal information. Do not enter unnecessary details on websites or give information away over the phone.

2) Double check that you are always using a secure connection by validating the green lock icon next to the URL in your browser.

3) Explore NFC payment options available on your phone to make in-store purchases.

4) Avoid storing your payment details on websites you do not frequently use.

5) If the website feels outdated or the checkout process seems complicated, then walk away. There are plenty of other places on the internet. When shopping at smaller boutique websites, try to find ones that use major, reputable payment processors like Amazon, Google or Paypal.

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