If you shopped in a Target store between November 27th and December 15th, your credit or debit card information may have been compromised. While this is no reason to panic, it is by all means an imperative that you keep a close eye on your card activity and credit reports going forward so that you can detect and report any fraudulent activity as soon as possible.
Target stores nationwide were affected, involving as many as 40 million customer credit and debit cards. Though it is unclear who is responsible for the breach, it is evidently a sophisticated one. The thieves reportedly gained access to the information contained in the cards’ magnetic strips via the machines through which Target customers swipe their cards.
Information compromised includes:
- customer names
- credit and debit card numbers
- expiration dates
- CVV three-digit security codes
With this information, thieves can create fake credit and debit cards. Fraudulent cards are often used to make cash withdrawals at ATMS or to purchase gift cards that are later converted into cash.
Target is working to get to the bottom of this breach with the help of a third-party forensics firm. It should be noted that the Target breach did not affect any online transactions, and should no longer affect any in-store transactions going forward. You can read Target’s official statement on its website.
Protecting Yourself From Fraud
While there is no fool-proof means of protecting yourself from credit or debit card fraud, there are many measures you can take to minimize risk.
Specific to the circumstances of the Target credit card breach, one means of protection is to pay with cash instead of cards, especially during the busy holiday season when you’re likely making many more transactions than usual.
Paying with cash not only helps protect the security of your cards, but also can help you stick to your budget. Take to the store only as much cash as you’ve budgeted for and leave your cards at home.
Other means of protecting your credit and debit card information:
- Never let your credit or debit cards out of your sight (this means getting used to paying with cash in restaurants)
- Before throwing them away, shred documents containing your card information
- Don’t sign blank credit card receipts
- Only give out your credit card information via phone calls in which you initiated the call
- Only use your cards online via websites that display the lock icon in the browser or “https” at the beginning of the site’s URL
- Check your card activity regularly (daily, if possible)
- Monitor your credit reports (every three months, if possible)
How To Respond In the Event of Fraud
If you notice fraudulent activity on your credit or debit cards, or credit reports:
1) Contact the Card Issuer. Immediately contact the issuer of the credit card that was lost or stolen. Follow up this call with a letter so you have the report documented.
2) Contact the Credit Bureaus. Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports by calling any one of the credit bureaus. This alert can stop a thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
3) File a Police Report. File a report with your local police station and keep a copy of the report if you have to deal with any creditors.
4) File a Complaint with the FTC. The FTC handles complaints from victims of identity theft, provides information to those victims, and refers complaints to major credit reporting and law enforcement agencies. The FTC can also refer your complaint to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.
UPDATE: Target subsequently announced that an additional 70 million shoppers had their names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses compromised as well.