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Paper, not plastic

I was shopping online Wednesday evening when it happened – my M&T Bank card was not accepted.

I retyped my information twice, just in case it was my error, but deep down I knew it wouldn’t help.

My card had been deactivated.

I knew it was coming. I got a letter a few weeks ago saying that my card was being replaced because I had shopped (a lot) at Target during the time of the store’s data breach.

The problem is, I still hadn’t received my new card. I had been checking the mail vigilantly, eager to slide the new plastic into my wallet. I had been swiping nervously at the gas pumps, sighing with relief that I could refuel my vehicle.

So Friday morning, I went to my local bank branch in hopes that they would tell me what happened.

The teller told me that because the Target breach affected so many people, the company that makes credit cards was having trouble keeping up with the requests for new ones.

I confirmed this with a spokesperson for M&T.

“There was a brief period when cards were taking a little longer than normal due, we think, both to industry-wide volume and also blizzard and other severe weather conditions,” spokesperson Philip Hosmer wrote back to me via email. “At this point and going forward, everything should be back to functioning normally.”

The branch employee helped me ensure that I would get a new card ASAP, and I got some cash to hold me over until then. That’s when I realized how dependent I am upon plastic.

No plastic would mean no online shopping, no paying at the gas pump and no online bill-pay. It means no purchases at all, even at a brick-and-mortar store, without peeking in my wallet to see if I have enough.

$2 billsThen, if I needed more, I would have to put down the coveted item, drive to the bank (during business hours) and have a teller withdraw money because I can’t use an ATM.

And once everyone whose card information was compromised gets a new card, they will likely have to change information on any accounts set to auto-pay. Think EZ-Pass, gym membership, iTunes, Amazon and any other service that automatically charges or allows easy pay.

Granted, losing large sums of money because a thief accessed card information would be a far worse fate. But it does show that these types of hacks are a problem not just for the unlucky individuals who lose money, but for those who have to take extra precautions and for the banks that have to issue thousands of new cards.

Some good may come of this. Credit card companies including Visa and Mastercard are working toward more secure credit card systems, which they say will make data theft much more difficult. Mastercard told the Wall Street Journal that they were working on it long before the Target breach.

The United States is reportedly the last major market that still uses the old method of swipe-and-sign. Hopefully, the newer technology, along with the adoption of better cybersecurity practices, will provide better protection for consumers.

But in the meantime, please excuse me while I go buy gas with cash and write a paper check to pay my bills. Anyone have some stamps I can borrow?


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