Facing Down Fraud and Data Breaches: What You Need to Know

By Markets Fool.com

From Target to Home Depot, data breaches make the news on a regular basis. So, what happens if you used your credit card to buy something from a retailer that later announces a data breach? Don't panic.

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"The key here is to really watch your statements," says Katie Moore, Detroit-based financial counselor at GreenPath Debt Solutions.

Nearly half (48.82 percent) of respondents in a recent CardRatings.com survey who learned their personal information had been compromised in a breach didn't check their credit card statements, and 45.69 percent said they didn't check their bank accounts. Moore says carefully reading credit card and bank statements should be part of your financial routine.

Wondering what to do if you discover suspicious activity on your accounts?

1. Notify the creditor or bank right away
"If you find fraudulent charges on your credit card, you should report this immediately to your credit card issuer," says Steve Weisman, author of "Identity Theft Alert: 10 Rules You Must Follow to Protect Yourself from America's #1 Crime" and founder of the blog Scamicide.com. While the maximum liability for which you can be held responsible is only $50, most credit card companies will not hold you responsible at all if you promptly report the fraudulent use. On the other hand, if your debit card has been hacked, it could pose a more serious problem.

"If you wait too long, your entire bank account tied to the debit card is at risk," says Weisman.

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Even if you report the misuse of your debit card promptly, the bank may freeze the account while it investigates the matter, which can prevent you from having access to your account for as long as a week or more.

2. Report a fraud alert
Contact one of the Big 3 credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) to report that fraudulent activity has taken place in your name, says Moore. When you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the credit bureaus, that agency must notify the others, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"That will make the bureaus take additional steps if someone applies for new credit in your name," Moore explains.

With a fraud alert in place, even if someone has your Social Security number, they won't be able to open new accounts because the credit bureaus will get in touch with you before it can be approved. This initial fraud alert last 90 days, and there is no fee. Beyond that, you could request an extended fraud alert, which will cover you for seven years. To get this service, however, you will have to show documentation that you were an ID theft victim, such as a police report or a complaint you filed with a federal, state or local law enforcement agency. Which brings us to our next tip...

3. Create an identity theft report with the FTC
You can do this at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT, says Moore. "Be sure to call the hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems," she adds. Once you submit your FTC complaint, you'll get your "Identity Theft Affidavit." That paperwork will help you with your next step, which is...

4. File a police report
Call your local police department and ask them if you can file the report over the phone or on the Internet, says Moore. When you file, have your FTC ID Theft Complaint form and any supporting documentation ready. Taking this extra measure can help permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report, prevent a company from trying to collect debts that result from identity theft, and allow you to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

Not a victim?
Consider yourself lucky, but start being proactive about monitoring your accounts, says Anthony Sprauve, consumer credit specialist at FICO.

"Regularly check your credit report from all three of the bureaus. You're allowed one from each bureau per year, so stagger your requests so that you're checking your credit every 4 months," he says.

You can also get your free credit score and watch for any unusual changes.

You should also consider taking advantage of your credit card companies' options to alert you to unusual spending.

"You can set it up so that if there's a charge over $100, you'll get an alert," says Sprauve.

Finally, if fraud truly frightens you, consider looking into identity monitoring products that will keep track of your accounts for you.

"By allowing your accounts to go unchecked, people can run up bills in your name," says Sprauve. "That could bring your credit score down and complicate things for you in the future."

This article originally appeared on WisePiggy.com.

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