Commentary: Latest computer breach shows that going “green” requires trust

You log into your bank account or open your latest credit card statement and there it is; an appeal to go “green” by signing up for e-bills. It sounds enticing, no more paper in your mail box, should you take them up on their offer? The Epsilon computer breach a few weeks ago should make the answer clear – no!

Going “green” surely should be good for the environment because it means less paper and envelopes to clutter our landfills. Not to mention not having to write checks, lick the envelopes and run to the mail box. What could be wrong with that?

What is wrong is that you give up control over your financial wellbeing. The banks and the credit card companies love the “green” movement. They use it to lower their expenses while taking more financial control away from you. When you sign up for e-bills you are giving the bank the authority to take money from your account under the guise of convenience. You depend on the bank to give you an accurate statement, with no hidden fees and take only the money you authorized them to take from your account.

But is that how it really works? When was the last time you looked closely at your e-bill? Your statement for that matter? Do you know what your interest rate is? Are there any fees hidden in there? Most consumers don’t notice these and the banks depend on your ignorance to miss the fees and interest hikes that line their pockets.

Best of all for the banks, by switching you over to e-billing you are reducing their costs to operate. No more hiring people to open envelopes, process payments and deposit checks, electronically or otherwise. No more paper and envelopes to buy and no more postage to pay for. The “green” movement has given the banks lowered expenses and the ability pay themselves from your account.

Even though you may closely watch your bank statements, have you noticed how hard it is it to stop someone from taking money out of your bank account once you’ve authorized them to auto-debit money from it? You’ve basically given them authority to go into your bank account and take out money before asking you for permission, month after month.

Trust, it all comes down to trust. You trust the bank to treat you fairly, to only take the money that you have authorized them to take and more importantly, not to add unfair fees to your account. Do they merit this trust? The major banks and credit providers have given your name and email address to a third-party; Epsilon.

Epsilon is an online marketing firm based out of Dallas. They provide marketing email services to house-hold named companies such as BestBuy, CitiBank, Target, JP Morgan among 2,500 other companies.

If you do business with any of these companies, chances are that you have already received the notice that your name and email address have been compromised. Although the theft of the personal data will probably only result in more annoying spam in your inbox, the data breach demonstrates the inherent risk of giving up control of your finances to a bank.

The companies affected by the security breach of Epsilon will hide behind the “it wasn’t us, but rather a contractor we work with” for the loss of your personal information. Ask Epsilon to explain themselves and their public relations wall just says, we’re working on it and have no more information at this time. And that is where the risk resides. One company’s actions or lack of them, in this case, Epsilon affects millions of consumers that never did business with Epsilon in the first place. In other words, the “buck” doesn’t stop with the company you are with, rather, with a company you never heard from before the the data was stolen. Try to get Epsilon to fix the ramifications to you and see how far that gets you.

It was the company that you did business with that entrusted your personal data to Epsilon, yet you have to deal with the ramifications of their business decision, most likely made to bolster their bottom line. Now you have to deal with, in this case, a clogged mail box full of junk mail. On the other hand, what if it had been your checking account and the information needed to take money from it? You might eventually get your money back, but who is going to reimburse you for the stress of dealing with the loss of your money, however temporary, or your loss of time? As attractive as it may sound to “save” the environment by saving a few trees is it really worth the loss of your financial security?

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