Protecting Yourself From Fraud
Last Christmas, the credit and debit card information of as many as 40 million customers was compromised over three weeks of the holiday shopping season. It was one of the largest breaches ever of American consumer data. Most of us probably know someone who was affected. Target says that incidents of fraud have been limited, but it’s still a frightening scenario.
Our recommendation is nothing new. Consumers need to always be vigilant against fraud. However, if you think you might have been affected, here are four recommendations for safeguarding yourself:
- Request new cards. To replace any of the cards that you might have used at Target when the breach occurred. While many experts say that this is unnecessary, it’s a simple step that will provide you with great peace of mind. Target has admitted that the data containing encrypted PIN numbers was stolen. While it would be difficult for hackers to break the encryption on these files, most people assumed it would be hard for the files to be stolen in the first place. Some banks, like Regions Bank, took this step on their own, cancelling old cards and issuing new ones.
- Monitor your current accounts. It’s surprising how many people don’t even look at their monthly account statement. You need to make sure that you know where your money is going. One of the simplest cases of fraud we’ve witnessed is when a group of scammers got access to a large number of checking accounts. People had provided their account information on a website in order to sign up for a free promotion. The scammers used this information to set up a monthly withdrawal of $1.00 on every account. It took one person 13 months to notice. Now multiply that times the tens of thousands of accounts they had breached! Would you know if someone was stealing $1 a month from you?
- Monitor your credit reports. You may think that your credit is so bad that no one would want to steal it, but the damage caused by identity theft can take years to fix. Annual CreditReport.com offers one free credit report each year. If you think that your information may have been stolen, you need to be on the lookout for new accounts or changes in your information that you have not initiated. Look for any addresses that do not belong to you, a different spelling of your name, or anything else that is incorrect. The reporting agency got that information from someone. If it was not you, you should be concerned about the source.
- If you discover anything suspicious, report it to everyone. Call your local law enforcement and file a report. If they will not take a report, write down the date and time of your call the name of the person that you spoke with so that you can verify it later. Call the card issuer and your bank and report what you have found. They may ask for a police report number and will want as much information as you can provide. Again, make notes of the time and date of the call and the name of the person that you spoke with. Report scams to the state attorney general. They have resources to investigate complicated scams and will want to warn others.
Following these steps does not guarantee that you won’t become a victim of fraud. However, they will enable you to detect fraud quickly, put a stop to it, and alert those who need to know. By staying vigilant, we can limit our damages and help maintain our privacy and security.