Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Highly publicized security breaches at large retailers have left consumers looking for guidance on how to guard their financial information. We have answers to your questions about what to do in the event of a data breach.
Asking your bank or credit card issuer to send you a new card with a new number is the best way to nip potential theft in the bud. And it's an especially good idea if you suspect that your debit card data has been stolen, given that a debit card provides direct access to your bank account -- and that its legal protections are less robust than those of a credit card. Victims of credit card fraud are legally responsible for up to $50. (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa take full responsibility.) With debit cards, your liability could be unlimited. As soon as you get your new card, notify any services -- say, your electric utility or cable company -- that charge automatic bill payments to the card so that you aren't hit with fees for missed payments. If you do incur any fees, explain the situation to the company and ask to have them waived.
What if I decide not to get a new card?
Keep close tabs on your bank or credit card account. Log in daily for the first few months to check for suspicious activity, suggests Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie. After that, try to check in about once a week.
Could I be scammed in other ways?
If a data breach extends to customer names, phone numbers, and email and mailing addresses, you could be vulnerable to phishing scams -- fake messages designed to pry even more personal information from you. If you're not sure that a message is legitimate, don't click on any links that it contains or provide any personal information that it requests.
Should I worry about my identity being stolen?
If a retailer offers free credit monitoring, it wouldn't hurt to sign up. You can also check your credit reports from the three major bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- free once a year at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
I'm still nervous about ID theft. What else can I do?
You could place a freeze on your credit reports as a preventive measure, says Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Identity Theft 911. Lenders won't be able to offer new credit in your name without your permission. A less drastic action is to place a fraud alert on your reports, which requires lenders to take extra precautions to verify your identity before granting new credit.
(Lisa Gerstner is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)
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