Target announced this morning that information on millions of credit and debit card accounts may have been leaked in a data breach that happened just as the holiday shopping season shifted into high gear.
The chain said accounts of customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at terminals in its U.S. stores from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15 may have been exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the cards' backs.
The breach affected all cards, including Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.
If you've shopped at Target this holiday season, here are some things you can do to find out if your credit or debit card was affected by the security breach:
• You should always check your credit card and bank account statement for suspicious or unauthorized purchases. But you shouldn't wait for your next statement. Get to know your bank's website, where records of transactions will be updated daily. If that's not an option, call the number on the back of your credit card to find out the most recent transactions. Don't just look for large charges. Hackers often charge a few cents to find out if an account is usable.
• If you do find fraudulent charges on your account, call your credit card company or bank. The good news is in most cases you aren't on the hook for them. Credit card companies are often able to flag the charges before they go through and shut down your card. If that doesn't happen, the card issuer will generally strip charges you claim are fraudulent off your card immediately.
• Target has set up a toll-free line to field calls relating to the breach: 1-866-852-8680. Keep in mind it might be busy. Target customers have indicated that they have had difficulty accessing their accounts on the company's website Thursday.
• To avoid future problems, sign up for fraud monitoring services. Credit card companies typically offer them for free.
• Your bank likely offers email and text message alerts that you can set up on their website so they can notify you every time there's an Internet purchase, international purchase or a charge over a certain amount. Some financial institutions will also alert you when your balance reaches a certain limit. Visit your bank's site and see what you need to do to receive these alerts.
• Replace your credit card and change your PIN, if your account has been compromised.
• Contact the Federal Trade Commission or local law enforcement to report incidents of identity theft or to learn about protecting yourself from identity theft. Go to consumer.gov/idtheft, or call the FTC toll-free at 1-877-438-4338 — or write to Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580.