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San Fernando
Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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Just Go Ahead and Swipe

These days, I hardly ever think twice. I just swipe it, even though I said I wouldn’t. And I just keep doing it, again and again. What am I talking about? How I pay with my debit card during my bi-weekly trip to Target. Following the huge 2013 breach that compromised the personal and financial data of tens of millions of customers, I had vowed to never again use my debit card at the register. Yeah, right. I had this plan. The debit card would only be used to pay off credit cards, because the credit cards would be on the front line for me in the war between hackers and U.S. retailers – and their treasure trove of customers. It was really quite a logical idea. If Target or some other store gets hacked again – and, of course it will, by some criminals working in the basement of a gray, Soviet-era building – they could max out my credit card for all I care. All I have to do is tell my card issuer it was fraud, the charges get wiped off and it amounts to barely a blip in my daily existence. Debit card fraud, on the other hand, could mean a wiped-out account, leaving me cashless for days on end. At least that’s my fear. Well, it turned out, there was an unauthorized charge or charges on my card after the Target breach, but my credit union – instead of putting me through the typical rigmarole – took care of it immediately and shipped out a new card. In fact, I believe it proactively shipped out new cards to any of its customers who had shopped at Target. Even so, I vowed I would not use my debit card at Target, or any other retailer again. I would be smart and use my credit card. But I don’t and I know why; instead of being seriously inconvenienced, the whole Target fraud experience amounted to a blip I can barely remember. Which brings me to the latest hacker assault on U.S. customers; I am talking about the huge breach at health insurer Anthem Inc. We write about it in this issue both on the front page and in the OpEd section due to its importance and the fact that subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross, headquartered in Thousand Oaks, is the state’s largest for-profit health insurer. It also provides me with my health insurance through my employer. The hack is said to have exposed the financial and health data of not only current clients, but past ones dating back years, perhaps some 80 million of us. With this kind of breach, you might think there would be riots in the streets. But as reporter Mark R. Madler notes in his front page story, investors don’t care. After a temporary setback, the stock is actually trading higher than prior to the breach disclosure on Feb. 4. Investors don’t care because the public doesn’t really care. And it’s not just because people have made their health-care insurance decisions for the year and are locked in. Investors know that come next year, most people in choosing their health insurance will barely remember it. And why is that? For many of the same reasons I still shop at Target with my debit card. For all the media frenzy that occurs, for most of us these data breaches are nothing more than scary headlines that don’t jibe with our reality. Don’t get me wrong, I know that victims of identity theft – something that certainly seems more likely after a hack – can have a terrible time straightening out the mess. And Anthem has been issuing email warnings about how not to get scammed by crooks who have your personal data. But we worry about identity theft the way we worry about cancer and heart attacks: It’s not our problem until it happens to us. Most of us just bury it in the back of our minds. Still, all these hacks have riled up Congress and forced card issuers to act. Next year, the U.S. will finally be adopting smart card technology, something Europe has had for decades. The cards will feature a computer chip that I am told makes it much harder to commit fraud, at least at the point of sale. I’m still a bit murky on what it means for corporate data breaches, since I don’t have a doctorate in computer technology. In the meantime, though, I’m just going to head to Target for a little retail therapy, pick out a nice new plastic laundry basket and swipe my debit card at the checkout – with gusto. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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