Ana Veciana-Suarez: When worried about hackers, cash is king

Back in the day, a hack was not an act but a person — a writer who elevated the use of clichés to an art form or an artist too lazy to stray from a tried-and-true formula.

Hack now means something altogether different. The mere mention of the word spurs us to scrutinize our credit card statements, and for good reason. If you’ve ever had your identity stolen, you know that getting your financial house back in order can be as long and painful a process as a flare-up of shingles. As debilitating, too.

In the most notorious recent case, Target revealed that 40 million credit and debit card numbers had been stolen in a security breach. The retailer bumped up the number to 70 million when it included customer information such as phone numbers and addresses. I’m one of those lucky millions, and the retailer emailed with a deal I wish I could turn down: Because we value you as a guest and your trust is important to us, Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring …

A few days later, Niemen Marcus said it, too, had been hacked. And this week cyber-security firm IntelCrawler told Reuters these attacks are part of a wider assault on U.S. retailers’ customer data security.

The U.S. government and a private intelligence firm identified the responsible malware as BlackPOS. According to IntelCrawler, it was developed by a teenage hacker in St. Petersburg, Russia, known as “Ree4” who sold it to cyber-criminals. As a result, Russian mobsters now know more about my shopping habits than my husband does.

Yet, as my mother liked to say, No hay mal que por bien no venga, which, very loosely, means there may be a silver lining in all of this. We are, in a roundabout way, being given the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe it’s time to reboot the way we run our financial lives. Maybe going retro is the answer.

Think cash. As in paying for purchases with dead presidents. Like many of my friends, I rarely carry enough tangible currency to buy more than a sandwich, but I’m willing to change.

With cash, the temptation to overspend would be limited. When that last dollar is gone, no amount of swiping will get me more stuff.

With cash, my biggest worry would be pickpockets. And I can deal with that.

With cash, I’ll know exactly how much I’m spending. Plastic makes it too easy to forget.

Cash, cash, cash. I’m beginning to like the idea. What next? Talking instead of texting? Reading print on paper instead of a blinking screen? Bantering with the cashier instead of grumbling at the self check-out register?

Oh, the places cash can take me!

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