Eat in cyberfraud peace this weekend

Old summer worry: Is it safe to go back in the water? New summer worry: Is it safe to go back in the restaurant?

This week's data breach at P.F. Chang's has some folks wondering if they're safe going out to eat with a credit card this Father's Day weekend. So seriously is P.F. Chang taking the breach that it's temporarily dumped its electronic payment system in favor of an old-fashioned, manual card imprinting system.

USA TODAY reached out to six specialists in cybersecurity and privacy for advice in protecting yourself at a restaurant, a big concern even before P.F. Chang, given that there were 800 million cases worldwide of personal information stolen from consumers in 2013, according to a new report from Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Among the experts' tips:

• Pay with cash. Cash is far-and away the best option — especially in restaurants, and particularly if you're going to the restaurant for the first time, says Jane LeClair, chief operating officer at the National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior College.

• Use a credit, not a debit card. Unlike most debit cards, the liability limit on most credit cards is just $50 — and even that is rarely enforced, notes James Lewis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

• Consider carrying a low-limit card. If a credit card is compromised, but has a low limit of just several hundred dollars, that limits the possible hit from a data breach, says Alan Paller, a cybersecurity adviser.

• Keep a separate card for restaurants. Some consumers prefer to keep a separate credit card for public use, such as in restaurants, and one for online purchases. "That way, if your card gets compromised, your whole life doesn't get completely compromised," says Lewis.

• Keep the card in sight. Selecting a restaurant where you pay at the table — and the card never leaves your sight — can better protect you from having your information skimmed by a waiter or other employee, advises Evan Hendricks, a consultant in credit reporting.

• Scrutinize the receipt. Make sure that only the last four numbers of your credit card are on the receipt kept by the merchant. Some still print the entire credit card number, warns LeClair.

• Get free credit reports. Order a free credit report annually to make sure that you're aware of every credit card that you — or your spouse — has, advises Lewis.

• Read credit card statements carefully. One of the biggest problems for most consumers is the failure to read credit card statements carefully for strange charges, which can save big headaches, says Stewart Baker, a cybersecurity lawyer.

• Complain to lawmakers. Lawmakers respond to consumer complaints. If they hear enough complaints from voters about data breaches, they'll take new actions to prevent them, advises Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

• Stop worrying. "There's really nothing you can do, because you can't control the data," says Bruce Schneier, an author and computer security specialist. "Why worry when it's a problem you have no control over?"


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