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5 ways to protect against data breach

Data breaches at retailers aren't going away but there are ways consumers can protect themselves from future heists of their payment card information.

Here are five ways to protect yourself:

1. CONSIDER ANOTHER WAY TO PAY

Try newer ways to pay, such as PayPal or Apple Pay. "Any technology that avoids you having your credit card in your hand in a store is safer," says Craig Young, security researcher for software maker Tripwire. Those services store your credit card information and it's not given to the retailer when you make a payment. Some big retailers accept PayPal at their stores, but many others don't. Apple Pay, which was only introduced a few months ago, has even more limitations: It is available in just a small number of stores so far and only people with an iPhone 6 can use it.

Stored-value cards or apps, such as the ones used at coffee chains Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, are also a safer bet, says Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. That's because they don't expose credit card information at the register.

2. SIGN IT, DON'T PIN IT

If you plan on paying with a debit card, sign for your purchase instead of typing in your personal identification number at the cash register. Not entering you PIN into a keypad will help reduce the chances of a hacker stealing that number too, Young says. Crooks can do more damage with your PIN, possibly printing a copy of the card and taking money out of an ATM, he says. During Target's breach in 2013, the discount retailer said hackers gained access to customers' PINs. Home Depot, however, said there was no indication that PINs were compromised in the more recent breach at its stores.

3. BEWARE OF EMAIL SCAMMERS

After big data breaches are exposed, and get a lot of media attention, scammers come out of the woodwork looking to steal personal information. Some emails may offer free credit monitoring, but you should never click on the links. Many are for fake sites that try to steal bank information or passwords. "Avoid these entirely," Young says. If an email looks credible, go to the company's or store's site directly instead of clicking on links.

4. KEEP UP WITH STATEMENTS

Scan credit card statements every month for any unauthorised charges. And keep an eye out for smaller charges. Thieves will charge smaller amounts to see if you notice and then charge a larger amount later, Litan says. They may also steal a small amount from millions of accounts, scoring a big payday, she says.

5. GO OLD SCHOOL

Use cash. When possible, the safest bet is to not swipe a card at all. Even if security gets stronger at stores, hackers are likely to figure out a way around it. "It's always a cat and mouse game," Young says.