National Consumers League

Personal Finance

NCL Personal Finance Issues

Target data breach a wake-up call for retailers, policymakers

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Close-up of credit card numbersThe period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest shopping time of the year. This past holiday season wasn’t quite so bright for Target Corp. One of America’s largest retailers, the company suffered the second biggest data breach in U.S. history when data from 40 million credit and debit cards was stolen by hackers. Think you might have been affected?

Americans assume that when they shop their personal financial information will be kept private and away from identity thieves. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as evidenced by the more than 4,000 data breaches that have been reported since 2005, an average of more than one a day over the last nine years.

After data breaches occur, the burden for monitoring credit cards and recovering lost funds typically falls squarely on the affected consumers’ shoulders. This can cost the consumer significant time and money. If you think your personal information may have been stolen by cyber thieves in the Target data breach or any other data breach make sure you follow these tips:

  • Check credit card statements and your bank account every day to see if there are any unfamiliar charges. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately.
  • Monitor your credit report. It is a good habit to check your credit report at least once a year. If you think your personal information may have been compromised, check it sooner. Consumers can obtain one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies via annualcreditreport.com.
  • Stay vigilant. Fraudsters may wait months to use your personal information.

Consumer advocates hope that the scale of the Target data breach will serve as the impetus for much needed data security reform. The time for change is now!

Although consumers’ financial information will never be 100 percent secure, there are things that can be done. Retailers can use advanced encryption technology and more secure firewalls. Credit card companies can encourage the use of “Chip and PIN” technology in their credit cards. Our politicians can pass legislation establishing a national data breach notification standard and urge the Obama Administration to explore incentives and penalties to encourage private sector businesses to better protect consumer data. These changes will not happen without pressure from consumers.

Target has provided a “responses and resources” page for consumers affected by the breach. Click here for more information. The FTC also has information for consumer online here.

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