If the news of the massive breach of Target customers' credit and debit card numbers has you sweating bullets, you have a lot of company right now. Target admitted that hackers gained access to the names, credit card numbers, security codes and expiration dates from the credit and debit cards that many, many people used to make purchases at their stores since Thanksgiving, and sources say they've got all that data for at least 40 million people.
It illustrates that, no matter how safe you are with your credit card data, you can't totally protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Thieves are going after individual consumers less and less -- and going after companies, like Target, who have vast stores of this information more and more. Consumers just have to prepare for the day that they inevitably will have to deal with an identity theft issue, because it's no longer a matter of "if": It's a matter of "when."
So what do you do if you're one of those 40 million Americans worrying that thieves have access to your credit or debit card information? Just follow these simple steps, and take a little weight off your shoulders just in time for Christmas.
- Check your account statements right now. If you shopped at a Target store between Black Friday and last Sunday (December 15), open a new tab on your computer right now (or your bank or credit card company's official app, if you're on your phone) and, after you make sure that you are on a secure WiFi connection, check your online account statements for your credit cards and bank accounts (if you used a debit card) for fraudulent charges. Call your credit card issuers or your bank immediately if you see any purchase at any store that you didn't make.
The best thing you can do in this instance is to be proactive, because it'll save you time and money in the long run. What's even better is that, when other opportunistic thieves call you or email pretending to be your bank or credit card companies and demanding your account information to help resolve your Target-related headaches, you can hang up, report them to the FTC and be secure in the knowledge that you already took care of the issues yourself.
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