Shoppers at Target received a most unwelcome surprise this past holiday season when it was announced that between 70 and 110 million of its customers had their card information stolen from them in a data breach. It was an unfortunate reminder that as consumers, we are occasionally faced with the possibility of someone gaining access to our information. Retailers and businesses have faced this type of threat for many years, and despite their best efforts, incidents like this still occur. Short of not using a card for payment, it is hard to prevent this from ever happening. However, there are some things you can do to minimize the effect and reduce the stress and anxiety should this actually happen to you.

In general, the people most affected by a breach are those who use debit cards, and this can be concerning. An unauthorized purchase has the potential of affecting your checking account balance, which could lead to overdrafts. If you are a frequent debit card user, it is very important to keep track of your purchases on a daily basis. In the days before debit cards, people balanced their checking account using a check register. Today, people sometimes forget to write down their purchases, leading to confusion and unwelcome surprises. Keeping track of what you spend will help you spot an unauthorized transaction quickly.

The good news is that most financial institutions (including Sikorsky Credit Union) offer electronic services, such as online and mobile banking, which make it easy and convenient to track your transactions.

There are alternatives to debit cards if you are uncomfortable using them. Perhaps you can obtain a credit card (we offer a Visa here at Sikorsky Credit Union). While credit cards can also be affected by a breach, it will not affect your checking account balance. For many years, most retail purchases were completed with a personal check. This option is still available, as is paying with cash.

What happens if you discover unauthorized transactions on your card? First, call your financial institution and report the fraudulent charges. It is important to get a new card and PIN number quickly. This will shut down the attempts of criminals using your information. Also, it is a good idea to monitor your credit. If you were a victim of the Target data breach, they are offering this service free of charge for a year (their website has the details.) You should also check your credit scores periodically, regardless of your situation. There are three agencies that handle credit scores

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