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OPINION - Wanna keep me as a customer? Then respect my data

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I almost never shop at Michael's. But I did last weekend. They have three-in-one picture frames that I'm using to redecorate my living room. I bought three of them last weekend.

Since then a major data breach has been reported. The problem was discovered and fixed before my purchase. Apparently the problem, described as sophisticated malware, was operational just after the Target breach was discovered. It was shut down in January. It's likely the malware got into Michael's system through tampering with the card-swipe machines.

I probably have nothing to worry about. Loved ones who bought Christmas gifts for me at Michael's do.

Three thoughts on this:

First, the companies that I do business with are responsible for the security of the transactions I make with them. Many large retailers are failing.

Second, the response from retailers once there is a breach is unacceptably slow and incomplete. The Michael's breach was known in late January. It was first reported by a private security company, and wasn't confirmed publicly until yesterday. Two-and-a-half months with my bank card numbers in-the-wind is unreasonable. And the fix that Michael's is offering to their customers is a one-year subscription to an identity-guard service called AllClearID.com. That's inadequate. Millions of impacted customers already use other services. And the best way to check on your own credit is to get a free credit report (which youre entitled to once a year). Michael's, at a minimum, should pay for the credit reports for people who've already used their one freebie.

Last, there are things we consumers can do to minimize our exposure. Shopping with cash is more secure. Let the cashier swipe your card (in front of you), instead of using the customer swipe-machine which is subject to tampering. And refuse to give the store any other identifying information about you; things like your zip code, phone number, or email address.

One of the elements of good customer service is properly securing your personal data. And, as we've known for years, customer service in the retail sector is generally poor.

Chris Conley

Image: A Michaels arts and crafts store is seen in the Loma Portal area of San Diego, California January 27, 2014. REUTERS/Sam Hodgsonvia wsau.com