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Posted on August 28, 2015 by in Data Breach & Technology, Personal

Given the option, I will always choose to shop locally. I feel great about avoiding chain restaurants in favor of the little bistro that just opened because a new chef is living her dream. And I much prefer skipping the big-box hardware store because the owner of the locally owned place can always spare 10 minutes to talk through my renovation needs.

Some people might assume shopping at smaller businesses has another appealing aspect: reducing your chance of getting caught up in the kind of recent data breaches plaguing bigger retailers like Target and The Home Depot. Unfortunately, though, that’s not necessarily the case.

Small Business, Big Problems

Although recent data breaches focus on large-scale attacks, the National Security Alliance has noted that 71 percent of security breaches involve small businesses. About half of all small businesses report they have been victims of cyber attacks, the organization added.

Security experts have suggested that small and midsized businesses are more attractive targets because their security systems tend to be less sophisticated. They may store valuable data that could be used for identity theft (e.g. credit card information and customer details) in databases that can be more easily hacked, when compared to the more sophisticated systems that large companies put in place.

Sometimes, a small local business may not even be the target, and yet still be affected. For example, due to a major cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase last year, information on over 7 million small businesses was compromised.

Shopping Tips

Knowing that smaller retailers and restaurants could also get hit by data breaches won’t stop me from shopping locally. However, given that information is potentially vulnerable no matter where we shop, I do find myself taking certain precautions these days.

Here are some shopping tips that can help you keep your identity safe when shopping local:

  • Whenever possible, pay with cash instead of a debit or credit card. This is the most effective method for protecting your information. Your local business owner may even prefer this, because they won’t have to pay the additional processing fees that credit card companies often charge. You get a more secure transaction and your local business gets to increase their profits a bit. It’s a win-win!
  • Avoid giving out your email and phone number if it’s unnecessary. Some stores ask for this information for marketing purposes. But if they don’t need to have those details, it’s better to decline politely. The same goes for your mailing address.
  • Be aware of eavesdroppers. Sometimes, exchanges at local businesses can be chatty, and that’s part of the appeal. But as you’re talking, think about the information you’re providing. Could someone else use what you’re saying to steal your identity? One of my friends doesn’t even give her real name when getting coffee because she doesn’t want the barista calling it out, so she’s adopted a “Starbucks name” instead.
  • While waiting in line at the local boutique or bakery, glance around before using your smartphone to ensure no one is shoulder surfing from behind.
  • Hand over your driver’s license only when you know why it’s needed. Some cash register systems require clerks to input information from your license. For example, liquor stores may “swipe” a license as proof of age. Any kind of unnecessary data collection can pose a risk, so ask if you can just show the license instead.

Staying aware and protecting your identity can help keep you from becoming part of the next round of data breaches. So, shop locally, but also wisely.

Image courtesy of Flickr user David Wilson.