Last week, Target confirmed a security breach that took place between November 27th and December 15th. During this time, data was stolen from forty million shoppers who used debit cards and credit cards in their U.S. stores. Those who shopped online or in Canada were not affected. Cybercriminals focused on the point-of-sale systems used at Target's checkout lanes, which collect information from credit and debit cards. They were able to access customer names, credit and debit card numbers, and card expiration dates and CVVs. The Secret Service is now investigating what happened. It is important to be aware of the potential consequences so that proper action can be taken.
Past security breaches have revealed that there are several common methods thieves use. These methods include: making fraudulent charges, opening credit cards to buy items that can be redeemed for cash, and selling card information to other fraud artists. Some thieves have used customers' PIN numbers to withdraw cash at an ATM (at this time, investigators believe Target customers' PIN numbers were not accessed). If you used a credit or debit card at Target during the security breach, your information is at risk. Protect yourself by following the steps below.
- First, carefully review your card statement. Do this online or in your local branch-if you wait for a paper statement to come in the mail, you will delay the process of catching fraudulent charges. If you come across a suspicious transaction, be sure to alert your bank immediately. If the charge was made on your debit card, it is unlikely you will be held liable for the charge, but the outcome will ultimately depend on your bank's rules. Usually, if you catch the charge soon after it went through, the bank can reverse it. If the fraud charge was made on your credit card, you will never be held liable for the amount.
- Order a new credit card or debit card. Go into your bank's local branch and explain that you would like a new card. They will order you one with a new number. In the meantime, the bank will give you a temporary card to use until the new one arrives by mail. By doing this, you are eliminating the possibility of having anything charged to your account. Without the correct card number, thieves are unable to make fraudulent charges.
- Request a copy of your credit report. Reviewing your report will aid in catching fraudulent charges and suspicious accounts opened under your name. Under federal law, you are entitled one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. Begin this process by calling (877) 322-8228, or by logging on to annualcreditreport.com.
- Continue to carefully monitor your card statements and email. If you ordered a new debit card or credit card, you should not see any fraudulent purchases charged to your account. However, it is important to remain suspicious of any strange activity. Keep checking your online statements every day. Be wary of any emails that claim to be from Target or from your bank. These might be phishing emails, which are designed to get even more private information from you. Don't open any attachments or click on any links when the sender is someone you don't know.
Unfortunately, in-store security breaches are very common. Barnes & Noble, T.J. Maxx, and J.C. Penney are among the list of retail stores that have been targeted by cybercriminals in the past few years. In all instances, customer information was compromised on a mass scale. In recovering from Target's security breach, consumers' biggest question remains: how can I prevent this from happening to me in the future? While the only foolproof way is by paying in cash at retail stores, there are plenty of other actions one can take to decrease their chances of being affected.
- Make a habit of checking your credit card and debit card statements daily. If you don't already do this, start doing it now. Today, almost all banks offer online banking to their customers. By reviewing your statements on a daily basis, you are more likely to catch fraudulent charges soon after they appear. You will also be more likely to notice patterns of strange activity.
- Save your receipts whenever possible. Stores that offer e-receipts make this much easier-take advantage of that option when you can. By saving your receipts, you prepare yourself for a situation in which you must prove which purchases you did and did not make (i.e. when you are affected by an in-store security breach). Another benefit: the collection will serve as a purchase log which, ideally, you can match up to your credit card or debit card statement. If something seems off on your statement, you should be able to check your receipts from that day to see if something is missing.
- When shopping online, be wary of sites that seem "too good to be true." Sites that offer expensive items at a low rate may be using their prices as bait to reel in customer information. While a great deal is tempting, the potential outcome of the transaction is not worth it. If you aren't sure of a site's legitimacy, use a search engine to look for customer reviews. If you don't find any, or if they're all negative, you should refrain from purchasing from them.
Cybercriminals are on the rise, and their presence is predicted to increase along with the use of technology. Situations like these remind us to remain prepared. Security breaches can be terrifying for affected companies and customers. By taking proper action, and following steps to protect yourself, you can avoid the devastating consequences.