With Target admitting hackers got access to about 40 million credit and debit cards, security experts are warning we should all take steps to protect ourselves regardless of whether we shopped at Target or not.
"They do a very good job of managing data. If they can lose control of this much data, then anyone can," says Christopher Budd, a Seattle-based security communications specialist with Trend Micro.
Target says anyone who made purchases by swiping cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.
Budd says the first thing Target customers should do is check their credit card statements and look for any suspicious activity. But he says just as big a threat is identity theft. The hackers can easily use the information to open fraudulent accounts and wreak havoc on people's financial lives. And he says don't wait until you get notified to find out.
"The longer it takes you to find it out, the more damage they can do and the harder it is to undo the damage," he says.
Budd recommends we all sign up for real-time identity theft protection, which constantly monitors your credit report and other financial information and notifies you immediately if anything out of the ordinary shows up.
Services such as Identity Guard offer a variety of options including social security number monitoring and identity thief victim assistance for anywhere from $9.99 per month to $24.99 per month depending on the level of protection.
"The same way you run real time anti-virus on your computer, we're at the point where you basically need that to protect your identity," he says. "We have so much personal information out there that we've reached a tipping point. If Target can't protect your information, then how is your doctor's office - with all of the health care stuff going on - going to protect all your personal information?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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