There’s a good chance you’ve had that call from your bank or credit card company telling you your credit card has been compromised and you need a new one. That happened to me two months ago. And when I asked the customer service rep how my card was stolen, she mentioned thieves stealing the information off computers.

It’s kind of ironic, because at Marketplace that was just the story we were working on — the newest way crooks are stealing your debit and credit card numbers. They’re called “smash-and-grab” thieves — they drive through store doors, or smash through restaurant windows — and make off with a hard drive attached to the point-of-sale terminal (where they swipe your card).

Why? Because we’ve learned that hundreds — even thousands — of debit and credit card numbers can remain stored on the computer hard drive. Even after it’s supposedly been wiped clean.


The crooks are hitting small outlets and major chains alike. So we’ve put together a few tips to protect your plastic.

Whenever possible, pay cash. It might seem a bit Dark Ages, but every security expert we talked to told us they don’t trust point-of-sale terminals (or those smaller hand-held debit machines).

If you must pay with plastic, security experts we talked to suggest you don’t use your debit card. Pull out your credit card because any fraudulent charges are guaranteed to be reimbursed by the credit card company.

Check your credit card statements carefully. Confirm you made all the purchases. If there’s something on the statement you can’t account for, call your credit card company immediately (then document the date and time you called and the name of the person who handled your call).

If you have concerns, ask the retailer how they ensure your information is secure. Do they wipe the hard drive clean every night? Of course, in our research, we discovered that even though companies thought their terminals were safe, they weren’t. But asking makes the point that you care about how your information is handled.

If your card does get compromised, ask the bank where and how your information was stolen.

Unlike in the U.S., there’s no law in Canada forcing the banks to cough up that information — but the more that people demand to know, the greater the pressure on banks to inform customers (versus protecting the merchant).

Find out what crooks do with your credit card information tonight on Marketplace at 8:30.

– Erica Johnson is a journalist and co-host of CBC News: Marketplace, Canada's award-winning consumer affairs show. CBC News: Marketplace airs each Friday night at 8:30 p.m. on CBC Television.

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