Do loyalty cards compromise your security?
Authored by a Symantec employee
Many people don’t think twice before signing up for a loyalty or rewards program that offers points, discounts, and prizes. Loyalty programs are a great way to earn freebies, frequent flier miles, or deals on products that customers will buy anyway. It is good for businesses too, as rewards programs encourage customers to make shopping at their store or website more of a priority or even a habit.
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However, there has been a lot of recent concern around loyalty cards and privacy. Cybercriminals have found ways to illegally acquire these rewards points and use them, either for themselves or in the underground economy.
With the rise in identity theft and credit card fraud, criminals have also been able to connect loyalty cards with credit and debit cards and have been able to commit larger crimes as a result.
Data collection concern
Some uses of your shopping information can seem innocuous enough. Sometimes it may be beneficial to you. While earning coupons for your yogurt purchase, for example, you are also providing more information about you and your shopping habits to the store.
Unfortunately, in some rare instances, this information can be used against you, as in the case of the Washington-based firefighter who was accused of arson based on the purchase records showing he bought a fire starter. In another instance, a gentleman sued a supermarket after he slipped on yogurt and shattered his knee while grocery shopping. The store retaliated by accusing him of being an alcoholic based on his alcohol purchase.
Third-party companies maintain most databases that store your information. When these companies go through a data breach, the privacy of your information is also at risk. You may wonder what would someone do with your rewards points? Buy discounted yogurt? Sadly, it’s not a discount on dairy products they’re after: the real threat here is identity theft. Rewards cards not only have your name, address and telephone number, but are frequently linked to partial credit and debit card information as well. Identity thieves use this information and combine it with other pieces of your information from other sources. With all these pieces, criminals can easily create a synthetic identity and go on a crime spree.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Information
For most consumers, it’s a matter of weighing the potential costs and risks to your privacy against the upside of participating: getting those discounts and saving some real money. If you do use frequent shopper cards, you can still take smart steps to safeguard your privacy, say the experts. Consider these tips:
- Watch what you share.
Never include your Social Security number on a card application. Some stores request a driver’s license number; leave that space blank unless it is mandatory. It is okay to ask why they need any personal information and what they will do with it.
- Consider a secondary email address.
If a loyalty program asks you for an email address, use a secondary email account you’ve created just for club memberships and the like. While it’s never a good idea to lie about your name and address, experts advise disclosing the least amount of information possible.
- Use password protection.
Some loyalty cards require a password to access the account associated with it. Make sure you are using a unique password: don’t reuse a password from another account. (Remember, if you use the same password for all of your accounts, all it takes is one data breach and cybercriminals can hack into all of your other accounts that share the same password.)
- Mind the app.
Most loyalty cards have an app associated with it. Sometimes fake apps masquerade as the real thing and pose bigger problems to your phone. Make sure your phone is properly protected with a comprehensive security suite like Norton Security Premium that not only keeps your device safe from malware and viruses but also guards against dangerous apps.
By following a few common sense precautions with loyalty programs, you can reduce the risks to your privacy and get the rewards you want.
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