Home Depot confirmed yesterday that it was the latest retailer to suffer a major credit and debit card breach. Once again consumers will have to scramble to make sure their money is still in their possession and check that their their credit hasn’t been illegally tapped. What should you do? The short answer at this point: assume the worst. Even if you don’t shop at Home Depot, Target, Sally Beauty, Goodwill, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, or eat at P.F. Chang’s, having and using a credit or debit card makes you vulnerable to what’s become a multi-billion dollar international criminal enterprise.
While you can never be 100% protected from these breaches (unless you happen to sleep on a pile of your money in a cave somewhere), there are three quick and easy ways to keep on top of your money and whether or not someone else is spending it.
1) Use a mobile app to check your account activity – It’s easy to get ripped off, but it’s also easier than ever to keep tabs on your accounts. Check your bank balance and credit card activity at least once a day to make sure nothing unexpected has come out of the bank and nothing unexpected has been put on credit. A few seconds of your day is worth the peace of mind – if something is out of whack, acting on it immediately helps mitigate a lot of the potential damage. Even if everything looks in order, it’s a good way of seeing how much your pre-work coffee or post-work happy hour ritual is costing on a regular basis.
(Note: this also leaves you open for fraud if someone steals or hacks your phone, so be careful with that too. Password protect your phone and keep your software up-to-date.)
2) Reset your passwords and PIN regularly – Yes, we know it’s annoying. And yes, we know it’s easier to just use one password for each of the million accounts you have online. But, having access to your credit and debit card info can be a skeleton key to many other online accounts that will ask for the last four digits on your card or your PIN number as a means of verification. If you’ve used your card at a place that’s been breached (or at a dive bar, sketchy ATM, etc.), it’s worth taking the extra step and changing your password/PIN. There’s no excuse for using your first pet’s name or your birthday at this stage in the game.
3) When in doubt, order a credit report – You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting services once a year. If you know for a fact that a place that you’ve used your card recently has been hit and you have a few minutes to spare, go to annualcreditreport.com and request it. Even if you haven’t been a victim of fraud, you might find out that you have outstanding debt that’s dragging you down.
Keeping on top of this sort of thing sounds like a hassle, but it pales in comparison to being turned down by landlords and unable to get credit because you bought a screwdriver or a decorative plant on your debit card in the last 12 months.