Keep your credit safe amid surging hack attacks

January 13, 2014

Last week we found out that data of 70 million customers was compromised when thieves hacked a database at Target. Then Neiman Marcus announced it also had a breach.

Upscale retailer Neiman Marcus confirmed Saturday that some of its customer accounts were compromised. They're working with the Secret Service to investigate fraudulent purchases made on those accounts over the holiday shopping season.

Neimans won't reveal how many accounts were affected, but issued a statement saying, "The security of our customers' information is always a priority and we sincerely regret any inconvenience."

The revelation by Neiman Marcus came the day after Target revised their estimate of how many customers had their personal information breached. In December, they'd said 40 million. Now, that estimate is up to 110 million.

Drexel University Criminal Justice professor Robert D'Ovidio says credit cards are a safer bet than debit cards, since you don't need to share a PIN number with the store, and money isn't taken from your account right away. But even with credit cards, you need to check your statements a couple of times a week and if you see a charge you didn't make, act immediately.

D'Ovidio says it's too soon to tell if the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches are related.

The best way to stay safe is not to share personal information in the checkout lane. When a store clerk asks for your phone number, your email address, or your zip code -- simply say no. Your information, if you give it, is going into a consumer database collection used for marketing research to send you emails. But if the retailer is compromised -- it puts you at risk.

If a criminal gets a hold of your credit card numbers, they can do more damage if they also have your personal information, too. There's a better chance you'll become the victim of identity theft.

When it comes to the issues that have been created by the Target security breach, some officials are warning that the incident has triggered even more scams. The estimate of customers affected has reached 110 million, after initial reports of 40 million.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane issued a statement that several scam websites have been found that are trying to further victimize consumers whose personal information may have been taken from Target.

Target has announced several steps to help shoppers affected by the recent security breach, including free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Attorney General Kane said these steps come after discussions with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection and other states on behalf of consumers, as part of a broader multi-state effort.

Customers can register for a year of free credit protection services at Target's official website,

Consumers can also contact Target directly at 1-866-852-8680 and can reach Attorney General Kane's Consumer Protection Helpline at 1-800-441-2555.

Details on signing up for the free credit monitoring include:

  • Consumers who shopped in U.S. stores may request an activation code by entering their name and email address at before April 23, 2014.
  • Consumers will then receive an email from Target within one-to-five days that will include the unique activation code and instructions on how to register their code with the outside credit monitoring service.
  • Consumers will have until April 30, 2014 to use their code to register with the outside credit monitoring service.

The time period of the breach is between Nov. 27, 2013 through Dec. 15, 2013.

Pennsylvania consumers with additional questions are encouraged to contact the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555.

There are defnitive things that make some places much more dangerous to use your cards than others.

  • The idea that outdoor ATMs are among the most dangerous places to use a debit card seems a little bit absurd. But some ATMs present a perfect opportunity for thieves to skim users' debit cards, says Chris McGoey, a security consultant based in Los Angeles. Skimming is the practice of capturing a bank customer's card information by running it through a machine that reads the card's magnetic strip. Those machines are often placed over the real card slots at ATMs and other card terminals. You're better off using an ATM inside a retail outlet or other high-trafficked, well-lit place.
  • Gas stations are another danger zone for debit card use. Gas station payment terminals have many of the characteristics card fraudsters love.
  • Debit cards are a convenient way to buy products online, especially for those who don't like to use credit cards. Unfortunately, the Web is one of the most dangerous places to make purchases. Aside from the potential for hacking at many different points in a transaction, a fundamental problem with using debit cards online is that it's impossible to know who is handling your information.
  • Any place where the card is out of hand can increase the chances of fraud.

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