The world of credit cards, credit reports, credit scores, debit cards, and ATM cards is a world of pathetic security and continuous blunders. For the amount of money involved in these transactions, you would think that financial transactions would get better security and attention, but you are very, very wrong.
Most credit card terminals are barely secured mini-computers running old software with old, if any, encryption. Why? Because the merchants have to pay to buy those machines and they aren’t cheap. They only buy new ones when the old one breaks. At any given retailer, chances are pretty good that at least one of the card machines is at least five-years old, and it wouldn’t be crazy to find some that are 10-years old. Obviously, the world of computers and hackers, has come a long way since then.
Target Credit Cards Hacked
Usually, when you hear about a merchant’s credit card information being hacked, it means that a database of card numbers was compromised. While this isn’t good news, it does potentially limit some of the damage. After all, hackers still don’t have PIN numbers or any other information from the cards except the number and expiration date.
But, the Target hack was different. Apparently hackers were receiving and downloading everything that was happening at those little credit card machines. That means that they were getting not only the the numbers, but possibly the PIN number for cards as well. They may also have all the data on the stripe which means a cheap card maker and thieves can make their own debit card or ATM card and unload your account.
Prevent Theft from Target Card Hack
You should always be vigilant about your credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards, but if you shopped at Target this holiday season, now is the time to really be on your toes. So, what can you do if you think your data has been compromised by shopping at Target?
- Verify Which Accounts You Used – Login to your bank or credit card, or if you use a financial aggregator like Mint, and verify when you shopped, and which card you used. This way you’ll know which one (or more) of your accounts was used.
- Watch Your Accounts – You should have online access to most of your accounts. Log in every few days and be sure that you don’t see any unusual charges. If you see something strange, notify your bank immediately. Call the number on your card, if it isn’t business hours, card theft is a 24-hour business. Don’t wait until the bank opens.
- Change Your PIN – Not all cards offer this feature, but if your card offers you a way to change your PIN, either online, or over the phone, do it. Thieves can’t use an old PIN number. Be sure to read the procedure carefully. The new PIN may be mailed, and you won’t be able to use your card until you get it, so be sure you understand.
- Cancel Your Cards – Call your credit card or debit card company and tell them you lost your card. They’ll cancel that number right away and send you a new card. Again, your old cards won’t be good, so make sure you have another way to pay until you get the new ones.
- Watch Your Credit Reports – The immediate way to benefit from stolen credit card information is to buy stuff and withdraw money. The above methods are a good start for protecting yourself. But, thieves may be able to use information from your files to apply for new credit cards in your name. Then you get stuck with the problems when those bills don’t get paid. Since you can only look at your credit report once per year for free, consider using the free credit monitoring offered by companies like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. They send you an email if anything negative appears on your credit report, giving you a bit of a head start. The same services may help you notice if there are new accounts being opened in your name. You can call the credit bureaus as well for other options you may have.
Remember that under federal law you are only liable for the first $50 in fraudulent charges when you pay with a credit card. That means that your card companies will be watching too, but you’ll know what is suspicious before they do, in some cases. However, that is not the case if hackers drain your bank account using an ATM card that they cloned from your information. Also, in some cases, merchants will report negative information to your credit report, which can affect your credit score.
Above all, always pay attention to your finances and notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary. They can walk you through what your best options are for keeping your finances secure.