Earlier this month, hackers obtained about 40 million credit card and debit card numbers used by customers at the retail store Target between November 27th and December 15th. The information obtained by the hackers included not only the numbers but also the names on the cards, expiration dates and encrypted security codes – basically everything an identity thief needs to make fraudulent charges on those cards. Most recently it was announced that the hackers obtained encrypted PINs for the debit cards as well.
If you used a credit card or debit card at Target within the given time frame, it is wise to monitor those cards frequently and immediately dispute any unauthorized charge. Most companies will not hold you responsible for unauthorized charges if you notify them immediately and follow the proper procedures.
The Target breach was highly visible and widely publicized, but identity theft takes place on a smaller scale all the time, and often you don’t realize you became a victim until you get your monthly statement from your bank or credit card and find charges were made in your name that you didn’t make. How can you become aware of these crimes as soon as they happen, and what can you do about it?
Monitor Your Credit Report
When an attempt to obtain credit is made in your name, it is reported to one or more of three main credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – so monitoring your credit reports with these companies is an important way to know what is going on with your credit. Of course, you can pay companies to monitor your credit report for you, but you can also do it yourself for free. The law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. If you request a copy of your credit report from a different agency every four months, you can stay on top of your credit report year-round at no cost and know if credit has been applied for, approved, or rejected in your name without you knowing about it. Also, if outdated or inaccurate information appears on your credit report, you can take steps to have it removed or corrected. Credit reports from all three companies are available at one central website – www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
What to do if your credit information is breached
There are steps you should take immediately if you believe you have been the victim of identify theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pages on identity theft, the first step is to call one of the three credit reporting companies and ask them place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. You can also create an identity theft report by filing a complaint with the FTC and filing a police report.
The initial fraud alert only lasts for 90 days. If necessary, you can place extended fraud alerts as well as credit freezes on your reports to stop or restrict access to your credit report while you attempt to undo any damage done. These steps may involve contacting the credit reporting agencies to correct any inaccurate information on your credit reports and interacting directly with your bank, credit card companies and other institutions to dispute any fraudulent action taken by identity thieves in your name.