What you should do if you’re a Target shopper

News of the theft of tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers and associated data is causing confusion amongst customers and prompting lots of questions:

Q. How many cards have been affected?

Roughly 40 million.

Q. I shop at Target. Has my data been stolen?

It depends when you shopped there. The breach appears to have occurred over the Thanksgiving weekend. If you shopped at Target between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, yes, your data may have been stolen.

Q. OK, now I’m worried. I bought a pack of onesies for my cousin’s new baby. What do I do now?

1. Don’t panic. 

2. Check your credit card statement. Most card companies will call if they see unusual spending on your account. But because it’s the holidays, they may miss something. So check. Either call your card company and ask them to run down any expenditures since Nov. 26, or go online and check there.

3. Pay attention to the details. Thieves often run a test on a stolen card, charging a small amount to see if the card works and if you notice.

4. Call your card company.Let them know you shopped at Target during the time in question. Ask them what their policy is. My card company has a recorded message telling me right up front that they’re aware of the data breach, that I’m not liable for fraudulent charges and that they’re tracking my card spending.

5. ...But don’t rely on your card company. Keep checking your account. If you don’t have online access, get it. That way you can check your account every couple of days or weeks. Make it a routine.

Q. OMG! There’s a charge for $6,000 worth of gasoline bought in Alaska! I live in Chicago! What do I do now?

1. Don’t panic!

2. Call your card company. Inform them about the charge, and ask for your account to be reviewed, and the charge reversed.

3. Call a credit bureau. You don’t have to call all three. Just get one of them to put a fraud alert on your account.

Q. Does a fraud alert mean my card is canceled?

No. A fraud alert makes it harder to extend credit to you. Anyone wishing to take out a loan under your name will have to prove they are you. The alert lasts 90 days, and the credit agency you notify will call the other agencies.

Q. I’m still kind of wigged out about this. Should I just say 'to hell with it!', and cancel my card?

Before you do this, speak with your credit card company. They will talk you through your situation. If after that you’re still feeling squirrely, then go ahead and cancel your card. Your card company will send you a new card in a few days and then you can spend the holidays changing your account details with everyone you do business with.

About the author

Paddy Hirsch is a Senior Editor at Marketplace and the creator and host of the Marketplace Whiteboard. Follow Paddy on Twitter @paddyhirsch and on facebook at www.facebook.com/paddyhirsch101
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