Who’s in Your Wallet? 

We use our debit and credit cards everyday without a second thought or hesitation, but could that comfort of swiping plastic be at risk?

Should you be asking, who’s in your wallet?

For as long as we can remember, money was usually stolen one way: from a bank. Today that’s no longer true.

“Just like Willie Sutton said, I rob banks cause that’s where the money is, you know debit card transactions are where the money is and that’s where the fraudsters are going after,” says Yellow Breen, VP of Bangor Savings Bank.

The 21st century thief doesn’t need a mask or a gun. They’re behind a screen, and can steal millions with the click of a mouse.

“There are frauds hitting everyday somewhere in this country and around the world,” Breen said.

One of those incidents happened last December at Target, the 3rd largest retailer in the nation. The personal information of 40 million customers was compromised in a data breach – some of them Mainers.

“As you swiped your card, it was able to detect the credit card number from that swiping action,” says Michael Knupp, Professor of Information Technology at Husson University.

The numbers were then siphoned to a data base, collected by the hackers, and presumably, sold on the black market.

“If they can get a breach there, rather than just get my credit card, they can get tens of thousands or millions of credit cards all at the same time,” says Gerald Wright, Professor of Information Technology at Husson University.

Knupp says the breach at Target was extremely complex and sophisticated.

“You’d run it at high volume times, so it just sort of filters into the weeds and no one knows,” he explains.

But the hackers aren’t only going after big retailers. Bangor Savings Bank is the largest bank in the state and its customers swipe their cards more than 20 million times a year at stores large and small.

“And often fraudsters target smaller merchants and smaller processors because they think they’re weaker,” Breen said.

The Director of IT, ¬†for a small restaurant chain, Governor’s, says their security relies mostly on the companies supporting their network.

“Every time something like that happens, you really look at your systems and make sure that they’re the best they can be,” says Jason Clay.

As for Target customers we spoke with, they’ve got mixed reactions about what happened.

“As I swiped it I thought well, I guess good luck?”
“I won’t use my debit card here again. I only come in with cash.”
“Well they brought in a new security system and our cards are pretty safe anyway.”

Secure or not, the modern-shopper has made debit cards the way of the future.

“As long as from a consumer base we demand efficient transactions where we can walk through a line, swipe a card and be done, as long as we demand that level of consumer experience, that’s going to come with inherent risk,” Knupp says.