Targeted in a recent security breach?

Think you may have been part of a security breach affecting Target or other retailers? ISG recommends that, whether or not you might have been a victim, there are a few things you can do to protect your identity as well as financial reputation.

Keep an eye on your bank account statements

Most banking institutions allow you to set alerts for unusual activity, so that information is pushed to you rather than your needing to remember to log into your account everyday. Jay Gatten of The Human Defense suggests having a text sent to you for any transaction (including cash withdrawals) over $100 (or whatever amount you are most comfortable with).

Debit or Credit?

Gatten as well as others also recommend not using your debit card as a debit card, since its PIN could be captured when slid or inserted in a rogue POS (point of sale) device. Instead, use credit cards whenever possible, which allow you to use the bank's money until you pay it back. This is the reason they will take immediate action if there is a chance of credit card fraud. (Watch this recent news story for more on debit versus credit.) Another alternative: use cash whenever possible, such as at gas stations.

Order free credit reports

An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three major nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. This means you can track request a report every four months. You can order reports at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

FTC & Identity Theft

Contact the FTC (www.consumer.gov/idtheft) if you see and suspicious activity. More about identity theft at http://brown.edu/go/identitytheft.

Beware phishing attempts

Some of the expected fallout from the recent breaches is phishy emails, text or even phone calls to those whose personal information was stolen. Because of this, be extra vigilant for anything that doesn't quite seem right. Learn how to spot a phish at www.brown.edu/go/phishing. Unfortunately, the "Important message from Target to our guests" email that was sent mid-January looks a bit phishy. What do you think they could have done better? On the plus side, the letters did contain helpful recommendations, much like what was contained here. But it also included an offer for a free credit report that some have found confusing or are unable to act upon since they don't have email and access to the Internet.