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Our View: Protect your credit profile

Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

If you are one of the 40 million Target customers who had their credit- or debit-card information stolen by hackers and you have yet to take steps to protect yourself, you need to do so now.

The thieves stole the information contained on the black strip of the cards over 19 days beginning on Black Friday. Among the information taken from the black strips are the customer name, credit- or debit-card number, and expiration date.

Anyone who made a purchase using a debit or credit card during that time is at risk. And the risk to consumers will last until their debit or credit card expires.

At a minimum, Target shoppers must closely monitor their debit- and credit-card statements on a regular – at least monthly, experts say – basis. If you notice any discrepancies, notify your bank immediately. And don’t think you’re safe just because you haven’t noticed any discrepancies in the first few months after the theft.

The safest thing consumers can do is cancel their credit and/or debit cards and order new ones. Yes, the delay in getting the new cards can be a hassle, but it’s the only way to fully guard against theft, experts say.

Going forward, experts also recommend that consumers choose “credit” rather than “debit” on a PIN pad when using a debit card. That protects your PIN number.

Virginia Peschke, executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County in Woodstock, offers these other tips to protect yourself:

• Check your credit reports with the three major credit bureaus at no cost annually at annualcreditreport.com. Consider staggering the reports throughout the year to check for any changes.

• Never give any personal data (Social Security number, credit card number or bank data) over the phone or online unless you are sure the recipient is legitimate and the channel is secure. If your purse or wallet is stolen, call your credit-card holder immediately and cancel your cards. File a police report and notify the credit bureaus of the theft.

• Never throw in the trash statements containing your credit-card numbers or bank account numbers. Either invest in a home shredder or take advantage of shred events throughout McHenry County.

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