From the grocery store to the discount supercenter to the craft store, data breaches and cyber-attacks have become the digital pick-pocketing of the retail scene. What does this mean for the average consumer, and how are financial institutions responding?

"Cyber crime is in the news right now—obviously there are some data breaches that have happened over the last year or so—and it hasn't been as much of a worry for us as it has been for some organizations," says Carl Bradbury, Commerce Bank director of consumer card products. "My team and I do this for a living, so we're used to seeing breaches like this and, frankly, fighting back against them."

Robin McMinn, senior regional operations manager at Regions Bank, explains that, "whenever a data breach is announced by a merchant, we place an additional level of monitoring on [cards] that might have been involved so we can scan for use."

Both McMinn and Bradbury explain that their organizations look for patterns—and disruptions from those patterns may raise red flags. For example, if a card-holder has only ever purchased items in Missouri, and the card suddenly pops up in Georgia, this could be a sign of fraudulent activity. Depending on the situation, the cardholder may be alerted or the card declined. In the event that this was done mistakenly—meaning no fraudulent activity was happening with the card—both institutions say a declined card for this reason can be fixed via phone call.

Should a fraudulent purchase be made, financial institutions should be alerted immediately. Bradbury notes Commerce's zero-liability policy, stating it was in place before Visa made that its norm. "If you didn't authorize the transaction, then we will accept that risk for you; that's our role as your bank," Bradbury says. As Regions' cards are Visas, those customers qualify for the zero-liability protection, as well.

In a proactive approach, McMinn explains that Regions works to educate employees—who, in turn, educate customers—about fraud. "Regions—and I'm sure most financial institutions out there—strongly believes in giving [customers] sound advice that will help them avoid the fraud in the first place," says McMinn. "We try to educate—that's the main thing; try to avoid it on the front end—but if there is fraud on the account, the most important thing is to contact your financial institution immediately, because they may be very helpful in shutting it down before it gets out of hand."

For a basic level of self-security, McMinn recommends individuals be careful when giving out personal information; monitor their account statements and credit reports; use a different username and password for online financial institutions than other websites; and opt for paying via debit or credit card, as opposed to electronic check—when possible—while shopping online.

Similarly, Bradbury advises individuals to go about their business in a responsible way. He advises neither to give your card or PIN number to anyone, nor to select an obvious PIN number, such as your birthday.

In the future, Bradbury says he expects America to move toward chip-embedded credit cards—which he says already are being offered to Commerce clients who travel abroad—as they utilize a more secure level of encryption than standard cards using a magnetic stripe. "The short story on all that is the chip is like a little computer on your card and it talks to the little computer in the terminal, whereas the magnetic stripe is a bit like a page of text—it doesn't talk," Bradbury says.

While these added features and bits of advice offer assistance, they don't answer what financial institutions specifically do to protect customers. For obvious reasons, these details must be kept under lock and key. "I think it would come as a surprise to most [people] to know just how much the bad guys are just like a regular business," says Bradbury. "Just as we're constantly developing new products, they're constantly developing new malware. They'd love to know how my guys defeat them—and I'm not going to tell them." He adds: "It's a real cat-and-mouse game, and we're winning."

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