It is clear that identity thieves target major retail chains in an effort to access the sheer amount of payment card information that these companies store. It’s enough to make one wonder if we would all just be safer shopping at local small businesses. After all, why would identity thieves go after them?
Unfortunately, as a recent article on Bankrate shows, it’s not that simple. While small businesses do not necessarily face the same type of threats that large retailers do, threats still exist to a great degree, and customers still need to be aware of the potential for identity theft.
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), 71 percent of security breaches target small businesses, and about half of all small businesses say they have been victims of cyber attacks. Other data sources suggest the problem is even worse. Visa, for example, says that 95 percent of the credit card breaches it discovers come from small business customers.
It turns out that small businesses hold a certain appeal to hackers, despite the fact that they have less customer data available.
“Small- to medium-size businesses typically don’t have the same level of sophistication as larger companies when it comes to protecting data,” Michael Kaiser, the NCSA executive director in Washington, D.C., told Bankrate. “Many of them use older technology that is more vulnerable to a cyberattack. A lot of small companies are still using Windows XP, even though Microsoft is no longer offering support or security upgrades to that system.”
Experienced identity thieves are not the only ones who might be tempted by the prospect of stealing information from small businesses. The employees themselves also present a risk. In a situation where there is minimal oversight, it is fairly easy for an employee to bring up credit card information on a business computer and take a screenshot, or even a picture with their smartphone.
Small online businesses present their own set of risks. On the Internet, it may be difficult to tell which businesses are legitimate with strong security measures in place versus lessor secure sites that may compromise your data. Be sure to check to see if the business’s URL begins with the prefix “https,” which indicates that the website is secure. Many people use the same or similar passwords when creating accounts on online businesses, and one breach could cascade into a major security problem, so be sure to always create unique passwords for each account you open.
While there are many risks associated with shopping at small businesses, consumers can protect themselves by being vigilant. Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service, which can alert you when certain activity possibly indicative of fraud appears on your credit files. Whether your information was stolen from a major retailer or a small shop down the street, a credit monitoring service will allow you to act quickly and take the steps necessary to minimize the damage.