The Target data breach put 40 million debit and credit accounts at risk. Just a day after news broke, thousands of the stolen cards were already found for sale on the black market. If you shopped at Target between November 27 and December 15 to snag a good deal, you may have gotten more than you bargained for, but how do you know if your identity has really been compromised?
Watch out for these early signs that your identity has been compromised, and be vigilant. Go over your bank and credit card statements thoroughly to limit any damage. To be extra safe, request new cards from your bank or card issuer — especially if you used a debit card!
Sign #1: You find mysterious charges.
Unusual charges you don’t recognize on your debit or credit card account generally means someone is accessing your account without permission.
The bad news is identity thieves tend to be sophisticated, and not all fraudulent charges will be easy to spot right away. For example, you may see a $20 transaction at a Shell station a few days ago. Knowing you occasionally gas up at Shell, you assume you made the charge and forgot about it.
People who buy stolen credit card information from illegal carder forums online usually test the numbers with small purchases. Some hackers will even ping accounts with just a few cents to make sure they are still active. That’s why it’s important to call your card issuer right away when you notice a mystery charge, no matter how small.
When you contact your bank or credit card company, they’ll help you determine if the purchase was fraudulent or if it was just a mistake. Maybe someone shopping online transposed numbers on their own card, or maybe you actually did make the purchase and you just forgot. If the charge does turn out to be illegal, your card issuer will help you make sure it remains an isolated incident.
Sign #2: You receive merchandise you didn’t order
If merchandise you didn’t order gets delivered to your home, it could be a sign someone is using one of your online shopping accounts. When they used the card on file, they may have forgotten to change the default address. In this case, your password associated with the account should be changed, and you should have your card issuer replace the card or flag it after you return the merchandise.
While this doesn’t apply to the Target breach — as thieves will use the data they stole to create fake duplicate cards, and they did not get access to your online accounts or personal information — its still important to keep this in mind because identity theft of all types is becoming more common.
Sign #3: Your card is declined
When your credit or debit card is unexpectedly declined , it could be one of the first signs your account has been accessed. This is a very important reason to not be nonchalant if a cashier tells you your card isn’t being accepted.
If your card gets declined, immediately check your account. If it’s a debit card, hopefully your money is still there, and your bank can explain what may have caused the problem. Either way, it’s important to act quickly.
Sign #4: Your monthly bills stop showing up
While you’ll probably be on the look-out for strange activity on your accounts, sudden inactivity is also a sign of identity theft. It’s not uncommon for thieves to change the billing address on stolen accounts to keep victims from discovering the fraud.
Sign #5: Your credit score takes a hit
If you’re unexpectedly turned down by a lender and you find out your credit score isn’t as high as you believed it was, your identity may have been stolen. Immediately check your credit scores and report from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian and check the inquiry section, looking for loan or credit card applications you don’t recognize.
If you discover fraudulent information on your credit file, contact the credit bureau immediately and dispute it. You should also ask for a fraud alert on your report, which means lenders must notify you and verify your identity before issuing new credit.
Sign #6: Debt collectors contact you about unfamiliar debts
Again, this sign of identity theft does not apply to the Target breach necessarily, but it’s important to know. If debt collectors begin calling you for a debt you don’t recognize, it may mean someone else has been using your identity.
Don’t ignore the calls. Find out anything you can about the debt and get in touch with the debt collector, the original creditor and all three credit bureaus to dispute the debt. Tell them you are the victim of identity theft and do not owe the debt. This is when it’s helpful to have a police report.
Not all of these signs apply to the Target breach, but one thing is for sure: you need to be vigilant and monitor your accounts to spot fraudulent purchases, no matter how small. Even if you do not spot illegal transactions, it’s a good idea to cancel your card and request a new one from your bank or credit card company if you know you shopped at a Target store during the affected time frame. This is the only way to be absolutely certain your information won’t be used.