Details of the actual hack are still sketchy, but so far it seems that if you shopped at an actual Target store between Black Friday and December 15 it’s a virtual certainty that your credit or debit card info is among the compromised accounts. Having cybercrooks drain your bank account or max out your cards is even more inconvenient over the holidays than other times of the year, so what can you do to protect yourself?
The question 40 million or so Target customers are asking now is, “What am I supposed to do to protect myself?” Here are a few tips to help you:
1. Monitor your account. Don’t panic yet. Even if your account is one of those that was compromised, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will also be used for fraudulent purchases or other malicious activity. Log in to your account frequently, and scrutinize the purchases to make sure there are no suspicious or erroneous charges. If you see anything questionable, contact your bank or card provider immediately.
2. Contact your bank or card provider. A more proactive step to take is to contact the bank or credit provider preemptively. If you know you shopped at Target during the data breach window, and you know that most—if not all—of the credit cards used in Target during that timeframe have been hacked, it makes sense to call your bank or credit provider and ask for guidance on how to protect your account.
3. Put a lock on your credit file. You can contact credit reporting agencies like Experian and Equifax and request a security freeze on your file. The security freeze prevents the agency from releasing your credit report without your express consent, and serves as a preventive measure to ensure cybercrooks can’t open new lines of credit in your name using the information gained from the hacked Target data.
4. Cancel and replace cards. If you really want to play it safe, just proactively ask your bank or credit provider to cancel your account and issue you a new card. Even if you do this, though, you should still follow the other steps. Canceling the card may stop a cybercriminal from charging against that account, but the information collected from Target may still leave your identity and broader credit reputation at risk.
5. Use lower limit credit cards instead of debit cards. This last one isn’t really a step to protect you from the fallout of the Target hack specifically—it’s advice for shopping in general to help minimize the impact of such attacks in the future. It feels good to earn a high-limit credit card, but if it gets compromised the attacker has a lot of your money at his disposal. A debit card is convenient for making purchases without using any credit or debt at all, but if that information is compromised by an attacker he may be able to drain your entire bank account. The safer way to conduct transactions is to use a credit card with a relatively low limit, so that even if it’s compromised the hacker won’t be able to do too much financial damage.
Incidents like these are unfortunate, and hopefully we can learn lessons from the investigation to help retailers like Target avoid attacks like this in the future. The simple truth, though, is that there will always be another attack. Keep these tips in mind for future reference to protect your identity, credit reputation, and money.