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Protect your credit profile

Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

If you are one of the 40 million Target customers who had their credit- or debit-card information stolen by hackers and you have yet to take steps to protect yourself, you need to do so now.

The thieves stole the information contained on the black strip of the cards over 19 days beginning on Black Friday. Among the information taken from the black strips are the customer name, credit- or debit-card number, and expiration date.

Anyone who made a purchase using a debit or credit card during that time is at risk. And the risk to consumers will last until their debit or credit card expires.

At a minimum, Target shoppers must closely monitor their debit- and credit-card statements on a regular – at least monthly, experts say – basis. If you notice any discrepancies, notify your bank immediately. And don’t think you’re safe just because you haven’t noticed any discrepancies in the first few months after the theft.

The safest thing consumers can do is cancel their credit and/or debit cards and order new ones. Yes, the delay in getting the new cards can be a hassle, but it’s the only way to fully guard against theft, experts say.

Going forward, experts also recommend that consumers choose “credit” rather than “debit” on a PIN pad when using a debit card. That protects your PIN number.

The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to stay safe against credit card fraud:

• Keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud for each company in a secure place.

• Don’t lend your card to anyone – even your kids or roommates – and don’t leave your cards, receipts, or statements around your home or office.

• Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable.

• Carry your cards separately from your wallet.

• During a transaction, keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.

• Save your receipts to compare with your statement. Open your bills promptly – or check them online often – and reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.

• Report any questionable charges to the card issuer. Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling. Don’t write your account number on the outside of an envelope.

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