St. Louis, Mo., Dec. 19, 2013 – Reports of a recent data breach at Target are a reminder that consumers should monitor financial accounts carefully and check credit reports regularly to prevent fraud, Better Business Bureau advises.
In a statement, Target said unauthorized access to Target payment card data may have affected customers who made credit or debit card purchases at the stores from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15. The company has hired a forensics firm to investigate the breach and says it is working closely with authorities and financial institutions to prevent further fraud.
Although most credit card companies don’t charge cardholders for fraudulent use of their accounts, customers still need to check their accounts for fraud that wasn’t found by a card issuer’s computers. You should look at transactions on the account to make sure you actually made the purchases listed. If you see suspicious activity, report it to your financial institutions immediately.
Most card issuers allow cardholders to check their accounts online. It’s not really necessary to wait for a monthly statement. Some authorities recommend that consumers switch to electronic delivery of credit card statements, especially if your mailbox isn’t locked.
Another important step is checking your credit report at least once a year.
“Pulling your credit report on a regular basis is a smart way for consumers to stay on top of their financial health,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “The reports can help you determine whether anyone has stolen your identity or tried to commit fraud.”
Many advertisements on television or online claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores” or “free credit monitoring.” Often, the service is free only if you sign up for another service that isn’t free. In some cases, advertisers may be attempting to steal your identity or sign you up for something that results in a monthly fee charged to a credit card.
The best way to check your report is through AnnualCreditReport.com, a service sponsored by the three nationwide credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and Transunion.. The service is available online or by calling 1-877-322-8228, and it allows consumers to get a free report from each agency once a year. Consumers also may go to the website and download a request form that can be mailed to an address in Atlanta. Mailed reports normally arrive within two or three weeks.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers:
- Do not access the Annual Credit Report request service through links from unfamiliar websites. If you get an email or see a pop-up ad claiming it’s from AnnualCreditReport.com or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. To help ensure the privacy and protection of your personal information, go to AnnualCreditReport.com directly to request your free annual credit report either through a secure website, by phone or by mail. AnnualCreditReport.com will not approach consumers via email, telemarketing or direct mail solicitations.
- Consider pulling your reports every three or four months. While you can pull reports from all three credit bureaus at once, consider pulling your credit reports one at a time spread through the year. Pulling your reports separately allows you to better monitor your reports and keep track of any changes or new information that may appear on your credit report. If you pull all your reports at once, you won’t be eligible to pull a free report again for 12 months.
- Pull your child’s credit report. Child identity theft remains a national problem, so it makes sense to see if your child has a report. The credit reporting agencies do not knowingly maintain credit files on minor children, but you can contact the credit reporting agencies directly, and they can run the report. If there is one, your child could be a victim of identity theft.
- Avoid companies that claim they can improve your credit for free. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be wary of companies that make claims regarding credit repair. These companies, commonly called credit clinics, don't do anything for consumers that consumers cannot do for themselves at little or no cost. Beware of any organization that offers to create a new identity and credit file for you. For more information on credit clinics and a list of warning signs visit www.ftc.gov.
- Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report. Inaccurate, derogatory information can lower your credit score and may indicate possible fraudulent activity. If you find information that you believe is inaccurate, you have the right to dispute it free of charge. Contact the reporting agency you pulled your report from to file your dispute.
Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Reviews and charity reviews by calling (314) 645-3300 or by going online to www.bbb.org.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com