P.F. Chang’s data breached! You’re next

Jeff Macke

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro is investigating a possible breach of customer credit card data. On June 9th thousands of stolen cards went up for sale on an underground internet site best known for selling card data associated with the Target (TGT) breach last winter. Investigators believe all of the new cards were used at P.F. Chang’s between March and May of this year.

The Arizona-based chain said it hasn’t been able to verify the breach but has been in contact with government officials.

In the attached video Lauren Lyster makes the observation that as many as one-third of the population of America has now seen their card information hacked. While that number may be high it’s not inaccurate to suggest that consumers are better off assuming hackers are in possession of their data.

The question isn’t whether or not your personal information has or will be hacked. The question is what you’re going to do about it. The answer is both personal and societal.

Societal Cost

What makes America the preferred hunting grounds of international data thieves is the combination of relative affluence and lack of collective will. Unlike Europe the U.S. is still reliant on magnetic credit card systems. The technology behind those tapes dates back about half a century.

The chip-based card alternatives being put in place by Walmart (WMT) at Sam’s Club stores and set to roll out across the country aren’t a panacea but they certainly help. They will become standard in the fall of 2015. The retailers and credit card companies are going to be the ones footing the bill to install the technology and will do so only grudgingly and at great expense.

For small merchants the prospect of installing new card readers is potentially costly and a huge hassle. Retailers are in the business of accepting payment in any form it comes. As long as most customers are willing to use old cards it’s unrealistic to expect the merchants to change.

Personal accountability

Ultimately it falls on individuals to police their own credit cards. That’s a huge hassle and imperfect but it’s clear our data is falling through the safety net under the status quo system. The choice for consumers is relatively simple: wait to have your data and/or money stolen or take it upon yourself to pay using either cash (!) or alternative payment systems that offer more safety.

There is no free lunch. Thieves will still steal as long as money is the backbone of a system. The goal isn’t a perfect system but one that does more than guarantee becoming a victim. Based on what we’ve seen so far this year your credit information is or will soon be hacked. Complain all you want but fixing the problem is up to you.

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