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Barnes & Noble Data Breach — Are Rewards Cards Worth the Risk?

American bookselling giant Barnes & Noble recently made headlines because of a data breach that may have exposed their customers’ confidential and sensitive information to hackers.

In the email sent to their customers, Barnes & Noble mentioned how they only became aware of the cybersecurity attack that resulted in unauthorized and unlawful access to certain Barnes & Noble corporate systems around October 10, 2020.

In addition to letting their shoppers know about the data security incident, the Fortune 1000 company also tried to reassure their customers that their payment card or other financial data hadn’t been compromised – as they are encrypted, tokenized and inaccessible. The email went onto explain to their loyal clients that the systems impacted were those that contained their email addresses, billing and shipping addresses and telephone numbers.

Although the Barnes & Noble data breach has placed their customer’s sensitive data at great risk, it pales in comparison to some of the biggest and most historical data breaches. One of the biggest incidents was back in 2018 with the Facebook data breach that compromised over 50 million Facebook accounts for three days before the company’s announcement.

Similar to the large-scale hack that happened to Facebook, and how it called into question the overall safety of online accounts, the recent cybersecurity attacks happening to retailers – including Barnes & Noble – begs the question of whether or not rewards cards are still actually worth it.

There are many reasons why people sign up for rewards cards. Not only are these cards capable of providing customers with a variety of loyalty schemes that make shopping a whole lot easier, they are also able to provide points that can save customer’s money.

Customers are not the only ones drawn to rewards cards and loyalty programs. According to Retail Dive’s article on the rise of retailer loyalty program revamps, brands also like these kinds of marketing strategies because they can help in reaching a wider audience, fostering brand loyalty and getting rid of the countless requirements for store-branded credit cards.

Nonetheless, reward cards still require lots of sensitive information from their subscribers. At the very least, these programs collect the customers’ names, email addresses, billing addresses and contact numbers.

In this day and age of grave technological disruption, there are a lot of things hackers and people that harbor ill-intent can do with just a name – what more if they have your billing address and/or email address?

Even so, many people still find themselves tempted to sign up for rewards cards with major retailers that they visit often, despite the frequent data breaches. For some, the offer of free gifts and “exclusive” discounts can be too hard to ignore, and this can lead to them amassing a collection of cards that they hardly ever use. An article on how many credit cards should consumers own by Petal Card, emphasizes that having multiple store credit cards could actually impact your credit negatively. Not only that, it could also cause you some undue stress. If you find yourself juggling due dates and minimum payments and not being able to make full use of your reward redemptions, it may be time to let go of some of your rewards cards.

An article by Forbes also mentioned how most of the rewards cards these days often downplay their significant restrictions. As such, these rewards cards have become notorious for taking advantage of economically disadvantaged customers vulnerable to various misleading promotions and marketing schemes.

For instance, Delta Air Lines raked in $5.3 billion in charges in 2017 – more than half came from the loyalty programs they currently have in place. Similarly, American Airlines pulled in $5.2 billion the same year, 59% of which came from their loyalty program. Retailers may not make as much from rewards cards as airlines do, but this gives us a glimpse into their effects on consumer behavior. Rewards cards and loyalty programs can make people shop and fly much more than they need to, all in the hopes of getting freebies they could easily afford by saving little by little over time.

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