Abundant Optimism

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Save Money and Your Identity by Going Back in Time

by Tamara Martfeld

Within the last year in the United States at least 2 nation-wide stores and one nation-wide restaurant have had their databases hacked. The companies and their customers have scrambled to reduce the impact of these data breeches. In addition to the stores and restaurant there have also been breeches to world-wide on-line retailers. Ahh – the joy of computers and automation!

As a result of these breeches there have been articles of how one can protect himself from the impact of the breeches, but every article I have seen fails to mention the option of going back in time technologically speaking. Due to other people keeping records about you it is difficult to be 100% safe from data breeches, but there is more each person can do if they want to be safer. Those of us who are older are very familiar with these options as we have lived without computers. However, some younger individuals who have never been without a computer may not even think of the other options.

Of all the breeches, credit card breeches from brick-and-mortar stores are probably the easiest from which to protect yourself. Simply use cash (that is the stuff that looks like paper and metal ; ) ). Obviously, if you use cash there is no credit card to breech and the problem is solved.

Debit cards are just as easy to protect from breeches – use cash. However, if you must use plastic a credit card is safer than a debit card. Credit cards offer some protections against theft and unauthorized uses that most (maybe all?) debit cards do not. Additionally, many debit card have a “per transaction” fee which is eliminated when using a credit card or cash.

ATM cards are another source of savings by eliminating their use. Most places that accept ATM cards also have fees attached. No ATM card, no fees. You also eliminate the hassle of having a PIN to remember and preventing others from seeing you punch that PIN into a machine. Not having an ATM can also be safer – I have seen many articles providing tips on how to be safe at ATMs, but have never seen one stating how to be safe by actually going into the bank.

For on-line transactions get another credit card which is used only for on-line purchases. Have the maximum balance on that card as low as either the issuer will allow or to cover the amount of your normal transactions with a small buffer. By doing this if the card is compromised it will eventually be rejected due to being above the balance and help reduce the impact of the breech. It will also enable you to have the credit card you carry around with you still valid for emergencies as opposed to not having any credit card while a new card is issued. Unfortunately, if you use the internet to shop you do not have a lot of non-credit card options in most instances.

Banking on-line and paying bills on-line might be convenient, but they also open you up to breeches. If you don’t use the internet for transactions involving your bank, there is nothing to breech. Write a check to pay your bills, or if the option is available, pay in cash. I do not know if there are fees for on-line banking and bill paying, but the price of a stamp will protect your account. Also, if you never bank on-line you will know immediately that the e-mails regarding such transactions are bogus.

Medical transactions on-line, such as communicating with your doctor or viewing your records, opens you up to having your medical records compromised. Use a phone or ask that any information be mailed to you. I feel the mail is safer than on-line transactions – if a piece of paper is lost it may never be found by anyone who will do anything bad with it, but if a record is hacked it is being done by someone with questionable intentions (why else would they bother hacking?).

Remember, if it is on-line it can be breeched. As with everything else there are security measures in place, but nothing, I repeat nothing, is 100% safe from hackers in spite of anything any company will tell you.

Remember as you are pushed to using credit cards, debit cards, ATM cards, and on-line services that those pushing you to these options have an agenda – it will safe THEM money, time, and inconvenience. THEY will not have to hire someone to help you, to process your transactions, etc. Before you make the decision to use these tools or continue to use them, look at the cost to you. Will it cost you more money? Does it expose you to having your finances and/or identity breeched? Is the convenience TO YOU worth that extra money or exposure? If you use these tools, will you still be able to transact business if there is no power? For that last one, I strongly suggest that you always keep some cash on hand in case power does go out. We forget that electricity is a luxury and that power failures do occur.

Another protection I rarely see mentioned is that the three credit bureaus in the United States enable you to freeze your accounts. No one can get a credit card or credit of any kind which requires a credit check if your account is frozen. It costs $10 per bureau (as of last time I checked). The bad side is that you need to pay $10 each time you need to unfreeze the account when you want to enable someone to check your credit history for you, but that is a small cost to protect your credit history from abuse. Of course, you should still check the information with each bureau annually.

Obviously, not all the suggestions above can be used by everyone. For example, a person who works during all the hours a bank is open may have no choice but to have an ATM card to get cash. Each person’s situation is different. However, the suggestions above can save you lots of hassles if you can use them.

For myself, I have never had an ATM or debit card and I have never been unable to make a transaction as a result. I admit I do use a credit card for most transactions, but there are a few high-risk places in my area where I use only cash. Look at your own situation and make the decisions based on that situation. You can save cash and protect your identity with a few simple steps.

PS: Now is the time to consider whether you want your Jack-O-Lantern to end up in a pie. See the Jack-O-Lantern Pie article on the web site for more information. It is as easy as, well, pie!