It's an almost weekly occurrence: On Tuesday, Goodwill said its computer systems may have been hacked, leading to the possible theft of customers' credit and debit card information. The nonprofit agency, which operates 2,900 stores in the U.S., said it is working with federal investigators to look into a possible breach.
That follows news over the weekend that Vendini, an event ticketing service, had settled a class-action suit related to a data breach in 2013. For many people who had ordered tickets through the service, an e-mail about the settlement was their first notification that their information had been compromised. In the last year, major companies like Target, LinkedIn, eBay and Neiman Marcus have also been hacked.
The incidents are especially troubling to consumers as online and mobile shopping continues to grow. People aren't likely to stop using their credit and debit cards any time soon, and as data breaches become increasingly common, consumers don't often know what to do when a company they've done business with experiences a breach.
Here are five ways you can avoid becoming a victim of identity theft -- even if your data has been compromised.
1. Monitor your bank statements. The easiest and most effective way to make sure someone hasn't made fraudulent charges to your account is to keep a close tab on your bank statements. Gartner analyst Avivah Litan recommends checking at least once a month, if not more, for any suspicious activity. If you find something that doesn't seem right, call your bank right away.
2. Use a credit card, not a debit card. Government regulations protect you from liability for fraudulent charges over $50 when you use a credit card or a debit card with a signature, not a pin number. But if you use a debit card with a pin, the regulations are murkier, and you may end up being liable for some charges.
"The best tip to avoid problems on your existing accounts is not to use debit cards, because not only is the credit card law better, but your own money is not at risk with a credit card," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
3. Get free credit monitoring. Concerned consumers can pay an organization for credit monitoring, but the government offers three free credit checks a year, something consumers should take advantage of, says Litan. The reports will show if any loans or new credit cards have been taken out in your name. Here's where to find free credit reports: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action (continued...)
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