Dairy Queen breachPotentially bad news on the horizon, ice cream lovers: Dairy Queen may be the latest retailer with a data breach problem. Last week, the company announced that customer data at a limited number of stores may be at risk. Dairy Queen was contacted by the Secret Service about suspicious activity it detected. The company has announced it is currently working with law enforcement to investigate. At this point, there’s no specific information regarding which stores or how many customers may have been hit. The problem, as noted by security expert Brian Krebs, is that Dairy Queen stores are almost all independently owned and operated. These franchises are not required to notify Dairy Queen headquarters if there is a breach or a problem with credit card sales.

Why are we seeing so many data breaches right now?

On July 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a statement warning companies and consumers about the malware known as “Backoff.” This malware was first detected in October 2013, but not identified by antivirus software until this past August. Because it took so long find, many retailers may currently be infected without realizing it. Criminals searched for business networks that they could access remotely, then scanned for computer systems within those networks with weak passwords. Once installed onto a retailer’s point-of-sale system, this malware is designed to steal credit card information. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that more than 1,000 businesses in America have been hit by this malicious software. Since it has taken so long for antivirus software to recognize Backoff, you can expect to see a slew of breach announcements as affected retailers are alerted. The UPS breach is a recent example of one the retailers that have already found and begun to deal with this malware.

What can I do to stay safe?

Whenever data breaches like this are discovered, the first thing on anyone’s mind is what they can do. Unfortunately, right now the specifics on the Daily Queen Breach aren’t known. Breaches are becoming commonplace, however, so there are basic steps you can take to protect yourself. These steps apply across the board.

1. Watch your credit card statement like a hawk. This malware specifically targets retailers’ point-of-sale systems to steal credit card information. It is vital to check your statement frequently. Not only is this a good practice to keep spending in check, but it can help with catching fraudulent activity early. It’s also much less of a headache to deal with a small charge than a massive spending spree. If you see anything on your statement that looks unfamiliar, be proactive. Call your card company and report it immediately.

2. Shred junk mail and other documents. We don’t yet know exactly what information was leaked in this breach, but when the same malware hit UPS it exposed customers’ addresses. It is good not to leave a paper trail thieves can use to piece together your identity. Junk mail, especially pre-approved credit card offers, often contains personal information. Shredding any mail you receive before tossing it into the trash will stop dumpster divers in their tracks. Be sure to get a shredder that cross-shreds so documents can’t be pieced back together.

3. Consider identity theft protection. Data breaches seem to be popping up right and left. If the Department of Homeland Security is correct that more than 1,000 retailers have been affected by this malware, you may find yourself vulnerable sooner or later. Identity theft protection services can provide peace of mind by monitoring your personal information on the black market to ensure it isn’t being sold or traded, as well as keeping an eye on public records in case identity thieves use it there. Additionally, many of the top-rated services also monitor all three of your credit reports for suspicious activity. You can learn more about what these services offer by visiting our identity theft protection services review page.