PITTSBURGH - Thieves are targeting mom and pop stores in our area, and, Robin Taylor discovered, they're getting away with thousands of credit card numbers.
security experts said why steal someone's wallet, when you can hack into a computer system and get thousands of credit cards?
Major retailers know they're a target, so they've put security measures in place to keep the bad guys out. Now, the criminals are turning to small businesses.
They've hacked a beer distributor in Washington, Pa., a resort in the Laurel Highlands, and a national book store chain, compromising hundreds of thousands of credit and debit cards.
One of those cards belonged to Taylor Pollier.
"My card had been used in Florida for a number of purchases that didn't match up to my whereabouts," said Pollier, who got a call from his bank after they suspected fraudulent activity.
id what happened to Taylor fits a nationwide pattern. Hackers get into a business's computer system. They steal credit card numbers and then hold onto them.
Several months later, the numbers are sold on the black market and turned into cards that can be swiped or even used in an ATM.
"You can take a hotel room key and turn it into a credit card, within 10 seconds," said Mike Prusinski, a cyber intelligence expert.
Once they have copied the magnetic strip, the spending spree begins. In the U.S., thieves rack up an estimated $3.5 billion
a year in fraudulent charges.
"They'll keep doing it until somebody finally says you can't, and they turn that card off," said Prusinski.
High profile hacks make headlines, but industry experts say 90 percent of data breaches are at small businesses.
"Many people never think it's going to happen to them, that it's only going to happen to the big guys, but the big guys have the money to have the systems in place to make sure that they're secure," said Ryan Levis, with WorldPay US, Inc.
Mom and pop businesses are often the most vulnerable because so many of their customers use credit cards.
"We've had people that couldn't pay for their meal because they didn't have a credit card with them," said Susan Hineman, the owner of Harold's Inn in Hopewell, Pa.
Hineman didn't want to take any chances, so she invested in one of the most secure systems on the market, with the latest software and a strong firewall to keep thieves away.
"Data thieves are constantly, constantly trying to hack into systems," said Levis.
Credit card transactions used be processed over phone lines. Now, companies are using the
Internet, increasing speed, but also opening the door to hackers.
Experts in security companies are monitoring the illegal activity, but say there's not much they can do to stop hackers who are overseas.
"Sometimes you can do everything right and you still may have an incident," said Levis.
So what can you do?
Well, for one, you can be careful where you use your credit card. If the merchant has an extremely old system, it could be vulnerable.
Also, check to see if your credit card has a zero liability policy, so if the number is stolen you won't be responsible the charges.
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