When the story broke about the Target credit breach last December 2013, it brought the idea of financial organizing home again to many people. It’s easy to get freaked out about someone else’s financial mess when your handle on your own personal finances are shaky.
I wish this all were a bad April Fool’s joke, but I take this stuff pretty seriously.
As a victim of identity theft and credit fraud twice in my life, I speak from experience. But remember that in this modern world, most of us will have experience with credit fraud at some point, and this topic is constantly changing.
There are a few things that you want to do, both for good financial housekeeping in general and in response to the Target breach. Because, hey, we know you were busy last December when the story broke. And in January. And since then. Trust me. I get it. But here are some things you really, really want to do.
First, check your credit report on http://AnnualCreditReport.com. This is where you can get your credit report for free, by federal law. Just ask for the report from ONE of the three credit reporting agencies. (Do not go to FreeCreditReport.com, which is not the same thing at all.) Also, you will not receive your credit score here, but that’s not the important thing, really, it’s not. Look for mistakes on your report, including addresses that you may never have lived at and credit accounts that erroneously appear outstanding. This whole process will honestly take you about 10 minutes, I promise you.
Second, go change your Target card password online, if you use online access. Why? If your card was stolen, then it just makes sense to change your password. Keep in mind good practices for setting up strong passwords.
Third, consider whether you want to keep debit cards with Target or with any other retailer. Look, I’m a huge fan of debt-free living, and many experts recommend holding and using a debit card instead of credit cards, to limit the risk that you’ll run up debt you can’t pay. But the fraud risk on debit cards is much higher than credit cards. If your debit account is hacked or compromised, the cash is G-O-N-E until you can track it down and replace it. However, when credit cards get hit with fraud, a simple phone call and written statement can put a hold on the card, but you don’t lose the cash. I personally would never have a Target debit card, although I love their store credit cards as much as I love the store itself.
Fourth, go to http://CreditMonitoring.Target.Com and request the credit monitoring service that they are offering to consumers who may or may not have been compromised. It takes you 20 seconds to request the service. Paying for credit monitoring may not be a good investment on your own dime (usually about $15/month), but given the nature and size of this event, taking a free credit monitoring service is a great idea. But you only have until April 23, 2014 to request free monitoring.
Fifth, ignore and delete emails supposedly from Target. I’ve noticed a huge increase in bogus, spam, and phishing emails offering gift certificates and credits from Target. Of course, they aren’t really from the legitimate Target company. Don’t open these emails or click on any links in these emails, because they very well might contain viruses, at the very least, especially if they contain “.zip” attachments. A good way to double check whether the email is coming from who it says is to hover your mouse over the sender’s address, which will show you the originating email address. When you hover, you’ll see all kinds of bogus emails that clearly have nothing to do with Target.com.
Last, rinse and repeat. Just because you don’t see fraudulent activity on your accounts this month doesn’t mean anything. We might be seeing fallout from this breach for years. Be sure to monitor your bank and credit card statements every month at a minimum, either online or on paper statements. You can go back into AnnualCreditReport.com three different times each year, and request a free credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies. That means you can pull one free report every 4 months. Catching any fraud activity early will make reporting it to authorities and stopping it that much easier.
By the way, both of these logos are my affiliate links that will take you through to Target, where you can get your free credit monitoring or go shopping.