Read the full article by Cathy Beardsley at


On a recent cross-country flight to Los Angeles, I surfed away wirelessly at 35,000 feet. I looked around me to see the faces of many other passengers buried in their laptops and smartphones and wondered how many were actually conducting business while inflight. Being in the business of preventing online financial fraud — I wondered how many of them were at risk of having their valuable assets stolen.

A few weeks back, I read an article written by consumer advocate Clark Howard, warning consumers to be on alert for online thieves stealing frequent flyer miles, using them for front-of-the-plane tickets and then selling them to make money. If you’re like most people, you might think, “It’s an airline account, who would want to get into it?” As a result, people tend to make their usernames and passwords too simple. Thieves have caught on and are taking advantage. Fraud has literally taken flight. We must be more vigilant than ever in protecting personal data and privacy — both online and off.

The same goes for our homes. So-called “smart devices” such as Amazon’s Alexa and the Nest thermostat have revolutionized everything from the way we consume music to the way we conserve energy. But just who is listening and learning on the other end of those devices? What are they doing with the information the devices collect? According to reports, Amazon keeps recordings of what you’ve said. Anyone with your phone, and access to your Amazon account, can read through what you’ve recently said. Plus, your dialogue with your smart device is stored on Amazon servers for analysis. Hackers could take over the device and gain access to it all.

We’ve become so accustomed to using our voices to serve up our favorite hits, and turn down the heat, we may have forgotten an important lesson: Keep your personal information private — don’t just give it away.

Protecting your personal data and privacy is not only the responsibility of the companies you do business with — it’s also your own. Each of us has to be aware that thieves are lurking and waiting for that one crack in the dam that lets them steal all the water. For example, when you partake in one of those games or quizzes on social media, do you realize that you’re often granting access to your contacts and photos? CBS News recently reported that between 75 percent and 80 percent of free apps were breached. It’s even higher with paid apps at 97 percent. By using these apps and playing certain games, you’re saying it’s OK to access your personal info. They can track things like your phone calls, your GPS or contacts, and build a file on you. Is it worth risking identity theft to learn what Thanksgiving food you are, or which punk rock icon you most resemble?

For the record, I got cranberry sauce and Joan Jett. But I digress.

Those examples might be a bit innocuous, but others are insidious. There are data thieves among us and we must remain hyper-vigilant in protecting our critical data and personal privacy. As a payment processor we use some sophisticated algorithms to detect and prevent credit card fraud, but we also incorporate simple, common-sense measures such as not accepting payment in cases when an email address or other personal data has been associated with fraud in the past.