Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some things don't require promotion -- and your credit card information is one of those things.

Some things don't require promotion -- and your credit card information is one of those things.

Call me a paranoid book publicist, if you'd like, but I want to pass along something that just happened. Put it in this context: Last year, right around this time, my credit card (one that I used to keep in my wallet at all times) was stolen. No real harm was done, since I discovered the problem within a week and was able to successfully dispute the $1,000 worth of charges the criminal had run up on my card (all the purchases were made in person in local stores, by the way, that did not require a buyer's signature or identification).

So that's the back story. Now here's the story.

This morning, I received two unsolicited emails from a major national chain of home improvement stores (not the one with the massive orange buildings) providing me with my password information, "that I'd requested." Um, no, I didn't request my password -- nor, by the way, do I recall ever signing up to use this site. However, I must have, because the password was one that I actually sometimes used, and it was one that no one could arbitrarily figure out.

So I called the phone number that was provided in the email to request that, to guard my security and privacy, they delete my existing account from their database. The customer service representative proceeded to ask me a lot of personal questions -- including my password. I refused to give it to her, obviously, because to do so might have potentially given her access to my credit card information. And how did I even know that I was actually calling he store that I was supposed to be calling (although it all sounded very legitimate when I made the call and got what appeared to be the store's voice mail system).

I was so uncomfortable that, once I hung up (without providing any sensitive information beyond my name), I hacked into my account and changed my password.

I'm also passing along this story as a reminder that this is the season for criminals to have a field day with people's identity information, credit cards, wallets, and more. Hold onto your belongings tightly in stores that are crawling with shoppers (and, hopefully, also with security personnel), and shop online only at stores that you know and trust.

A bargain is only a bargain if you come away from the transaction with your identity and personal belongings intact. And even something as innocuous as an email that comes from a major national chain of stores can constitute a risk if that store's security protocols are sloppy -- or nonexistent -- and their customer service representatives have been trained to do little more than perpetuate the problem.

This book publicist is giving thanks that she's as paranoid as she is and for the lesson she learned last year, right about this time. Who knows? I little bit of paranoia might actually keep identity thieves and credit card information swipers away this holiday season.