Steps you can take to reduce fraud risk

December 19, 2013

There are three things we all need to do immediately to protect ourselves, and while these steps will take a little time and pose a minor inconvenience especially during this busy holiday season, it's critical you take them.

"Wherever you shop, there's always that risk," said Jennifer Ruiz.

"And at first I got nervous about them, and now I just take them in stride," said Judy Levin.

Massive security breaches of consumer debit and credit card information are happening more and more often. In fact, security experts say they are reaching a pandemic level.

"We do have a lot of this, and we're going to see more of this as we move forward," said Jack Tomarchio, Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney PC.

So here's what you need to do if you used your card at Target between November 27th and December 15th.

"Go online and check all your credit card statements. Look for any suspicious activity," advises Amanda Walker from Consumer Reports.

And don't just look for big charges. Many times, criminals will try your card for a very small amount first. So look for unauthorized charges that are even just a few cents.

"Then call your credit card issuer, tell them about anything you've found and ask them to issue you new credit card numbers," says Walker.

You should also change your PIN and call Target.

Also ask about free fraud monitoring services your bank or credit card company may offer.

Finally, Consumer Reports suggests check your credit report.

"Then go to the big three credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, and Transunion - and put a fraud alert on your accounts," says Walker.

The fraud alert will usually post on your credit file within 48 hours of your request.

You can do an initial 90-day fraud alert or an extended fraud alert that will stay on your file for 7 years.

There are a couple larger questions following this security breach Thursday night. How big a crises are these security breaches? And who should be held accountable?

"Well it does seem like these breaches are getting more and more common," said Levine.

And this type of security breach isn't going away. It is not the most lucrative criminal activity in the world, but security experts say it is easy.

"That data was compromised as a result of some software that was imbedded in the Target system, in the IT system," explains Jack Tomarchio.

Security expert Jack Tomarchio says criminals captured the information on the magnetic strip on consumer bank and credit cards, getting names, numbers, and security codes.

"The forensic analysis will really try and pinpoint how Target's system was vectored and how they got in there," said Tomarchio.

And while any company is potentially vulnerable to this kind of attack, it is ultimately the retailer that could be held responsible.

"Target could be in the legal crosshairs, but still at this point I think they are still trying to understand what happened, how it happened and the issues of liability exposure will probably come out later," said Tomarchio.

Consumers need to be alert and pro-active.

And it isn't enough to keep a close eye on only your credit card and bank statements. Once criminals have your information, they can use it to try to access all kinds of things. So consumers should keep an eye on their credit reports, too.

"Make sure no one's opening up credit in their name or attempting to open up credit in their name," warns Larry Brandolph, Temple University Chief of Information Security.

Another simple solution from one consumer - use cash.

"When I got in the line, and I have a Target card and the lady asked me do I want to use my Target card? I said, 'No, I think I'm going to use cash today,'" said Ava Willis-Barksdale.

And even if you don't believe your security has been breached, you should check your credit report regularly. You can do that three times a year for free.

Again, here are the steps you should take right now for folks who used their credit or debit cards at Target between November 20th and December 15th:

-Check your statements - look for big fraudulent charges and very small ones.
-Call your bank, credit card companies, and Target to alert them and dispute the charges.
- Replace your cards and change your PINs.


Fraud Alerts on your credit files:

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