New York Times reports that a number of banks in the United States were hacked the other month and now, Home Depot is investigating a possible credit card breach. Several weeks ago there was another major hack. This time it affected Community Health Systems Inc. customers. Over four million records stolen, including names, social security numbers, addresses, birthdays and telephone numbers. This attack follows two other high-profile companies having data security problems, eBay and Target.

Data theft is when information is illegally taken from a business or other individual. Usually passwords, social security number, credit card information or other personal information. A retailer’s legal responsibility is only to report the data loss to credit bureaus, state regulators and consumers. They aren’t required to offer credit protection services. These kind of security problems are beyond your control. Since you can’t rely on the security of big box retailers how do you stay protected?

Use your debit card as a credit card. Using your card as a credit card requires a signature and it’s processed by the credit card company. Most credit card companies offer some anti-fraud protection. For example, if you use a debit card, the money is immediately taken out of the account, but if you use a Visa debit card as a credit card it takes a few days for the transaction to hit your account and the transaction is offered protection by Visa.

If you’re going to withdraw money, try to always use an ATM at a bank, they are less likely to be tampered with. ATM’s at convenient stores or casinos are more prone to skimmers. (A skimmer is a device used on ATM machine’s to steal personal information stored on your card and record your pin.) If you’d like more info about how skimmers work, the article at KrebsonSecurity is pretty detailed.

Here are a few basics to always remember: Shred bank and credit card paper statements; go through your bank statements line by line; be smart about choosing passwords and have virus-protection on your PC. Check your FICO scores three times a year. There are three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. All of them should have the same information about your credit. You can get one free report a year from each company. Every four months pick one of the bureaus to get a free credit report and make sure everything looks legit.
These are just a few ways you can stay protected. We can’t guard against every scenario, but we can try our best to stay protected!

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Written by Julia Pinski