We have to face the truth: We've lost the battle to protect our identities. Once the information from our credit and debit cards has been transmitted, it's out of our control. The latest high-profile data breaches confirm that we are forever vulnerable.
In mid-December, Target said that criminals had forced their way into its computer system and gained access to customer credit and debit card information. Initially, Target said about 40 million shoppers were affected.
Recently, the retailer disclosed that the personal data for an additional 70 million customers -- names, phone numbers and email addresses -- had also been stolen.
With your personal information, identity thieves can do a lot of financial harm. They can gain access to your bank account, open utility or mobile phone accounts or get medical treatment using your health insurance.
I hear a lot of stories about identity theft. A banker once told me even his information was stolen during a data breach. In that incident, someone was able to get an auto loan with his stolen information. Because the crook paid the loan on time, the victim had a hard time clearing the matter up.
In a full-page ad that ran in major newspapers, Gregg Steinhafel, Target's chairman, noted: "I know this breach has had a real impact on you, creating a great deal of confusion and frustration. I share those feelings. You expect more from us and deserve better."
Now we've also learned that luxury retailer Neiman Marcus was hit by hackers.
People are asking me if it's safe to use their credit or debit cards at the stores. Probably safer now, but you're still vulnerable because the bits and bytes that make up your personal information aren't in your hands.
Do the recent data breaches mean we should stop using plastic?