These days, we all live by our credit cards. If it weren't for that cash-only bodega in our neighborhood, we'd probably pay for everything in plastic. Which is why we've been closely following the recent security breaches at some of our favorite stores. Over the holidays, Target and Neiman Marcus became the latest retailers to fall prey to credit card theft, but many others have experienced similar data breaches in the past. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission reports that 9 million people in the U.S. suffer from identity theft annually. And, because we have no plans to start keeping our money in a tin can in the backyard, it's clear that we need to know how to deal with this type of crime, which probably won't go away any time soon. Read on to find out how you can minimize the threat of data theft — and see what you can do if you've become a victim.
We spoke with Ginger Reeder, Neiman Marcus' vice president of corporate communications, who reports that, in December, the company experienced a "criminal cyber-security intrusion" and that some customers’ card information was compromised as a result. There are currently no details on how many patrons were affected, but Neiman Marcus is working with the Secret Service to investigate and prevent future attacks. In the meantime, the company reports that it's also "taking steps, where possible, to notify customers whose cards we know were used fraudulently after making a purchase at our store."
Meanwhile, in an e-mail to customers, Target president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel assures customers that while names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and emails may have been stolen along with their credit card data, Social Security numbers were not compromised. Steinhafel says customers will not be held liable for any unauthorized transactions made on their cards and that no action is required unless they see fraudulent activity on their accounts.
So, what can you do? First, monitor your credit card statements, and call your credit card company immediately if you see any suspicious charges. Most companies offer 100% protection against fraudulent transactions, so you will not be liable.
As a next-level guard against any iffy activity, you can also monitor your credit report. Target is currently offering one year of free credit monitoring to anyone who has shopped at its U.S. stores in the past year. The service includes a free copy of your credit report, daily credit monitoring, identity-theft insurance, and personalized fraud resolution assistance if needed. To sign up, visit creditmonitoring.target.com to request an activation code. You can also see Target's FAQ on credit monitoring here. This is a great opportunity to safeguard your info — and, since it's likely everyone has patronized a Target store in the last year, it's some peace of mind that's available to all.
Read on for more tips on how to protect your info.
Target also recommends the following precautions:
Be wary of phishing attempts. These are phone calls or email scams that may appear to offer credit protection but are really trying to get your personal information.
Always be cautious about sharing personal information such as Social Security numbers, passwords, user IDs, and financial account information.
Never share information with anyone over the phone, by email, or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number.
Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize.
Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.
Target’s email communication regarding this incident will never ask you to provide personal or sensitive information.
Although the recent security breaches are scary, it's reassuring to see major retailers taking steps to both remedy the situation and give consumers the tools we need to protect ourselves. The growing prevalence of data theft is a good reminder that, in this day and age, we need to be extra-vigilant about safeguarding our personal info. Because nothing — and we mean nothing — is going to keep us from that Nate Berkus collection.