Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 18.
As much as many dread the post-holiday credit card bills, something even worse can happen concerning your buying habits — finding out your credit card or favorite store has been hacked.
"Consumers are under the false impression that when there is credit card fraud, the credit card company will always let them know," said Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. "This is not always the case. The burden of fraud prevention fundamentally lies with the card holder."
That can be quite a burden. According to research-based consulting firm Javelin, the total amount of identity theft victims in 2015 came in at 13.1 million, while the total fraud amount was around $15 billion.
Fortunately, it may be easier than most people think to keep their credit card safe and sound, according to Siciliano.
"By committing to regular self-monitoring and signing up for credit card alerts, you won't have to worry about becoming a victim of credit card fraud and the nightmare that often ensues," he said.
Siciliano recommends checking credit card statements at least once a month — ensuring any reports you make of an unauthorized charge will be done in a very timely manner. Also, don't use debit cards, as consumers have a more difficult time recovering money siphoned from their bank account if debit card information is stolen, Siciliano said.
"Be vigilant with both online and offline transactions — check with your bank on setting up alerts for suspicious transactions," said Tanya Widen, threat intelligence analyst at cybersecurity company Recorded Future, adding do not be afraid to ask retailers on the protection measures they have implemented and contact a company immediately if you suspect your account has been compromised.
She said if a retailer has been compromised, change your login details immediately and check the account for suspicious activity. Also, make sure your computer has the latest security updates and anti-malware set up and check for a secure connection to the website when doing online transactions.
"The latest browsers help highlight insecure connections or invalid security certificates," she adds.
Siciliano said some of the best advice he can offer consumers is to make mobile payment, as mobile payments actually are more secure than using a plastic credit card. He adds to have a remote disable function in case the phone is lost or stolen.
"You'll be able to remotely disable the device so that the wrong hands can't use your data to commit fraud," Siciliano said.
It's also important for business owners to take precautions, as not to lose sensitive business or customer related data. Dan Konzen, campus chair for the School of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix, said its important for businesses to be mindful of what they install and use on their computers and devices, as well as what they may click on and post.
"It's not just the obvious 'You Won a Cruise!' pop-ups that business owners should be aware of," Konzen said. "Hackers have developed more sophisticated tools such as ransomware, a type of tool that hackers use to steal businesses' data and demand money for its return. Always be wary of suspicious links in e-mails and pop ups."
He added to make sure your business uses a secure wireless network.
"Providing free internet is a strategy many brick and mortar stores use to attract more customers, but many make the mistake of using unsecured networks so customers and employees don't have to fuss with a password," Konzen said. "But with open networks, hackers can capture passwords, e-mail messages and sensitive business data. Direct attacks like these can even access encrypted data."
Keeping up with updates on software and antivirus protection also is vital — as the only way hackers succeed is by finding new ways to get around cybersecurity defense tools.
"It's a constant arms race of cyber defense versus cyber-attacks," he concludes. "By ignoring and skipping updates, you make your company unnecessarily vulnerable."