Target's recent data breach hit a little too close to home for my family. Why?
- I found myself stranded at a restaurant without a working credit card
- my kids had to eat the dreaded veggie plate at school because their lunch account was frozen for nonpayment
- I didn't get to read People magazine after my online magazine account was deactivated when my credit card was declined
- my daughter's band teacher almost repossessed her rented flute
Based on the number of times I head to Target each week, none of my friends or family was the least bit surprised that my credit card (actually, two of my credit cards) were part of the Target data breach that affected millions of customers. I later learned that many issuers did the same as mine and immediately shut down all credit cards without giving consumers a heads up.
"The Target data breach really changed the practices of credit card companies because of the breadth of the breach," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for CreditSesame.com. "Many of them decided that it was cheaper in the long run to proactively shut down all affected cards and have the one-time expense of reissuing the cards instead of worrying about future liability from fraudulent charges."
So after spending several weeks trying to sort out my credit cards and earning the title of Worst Mom of the Year from my kids, I realized that I needed to educate myself more in order to properly prepare for any future data breaches.
Here are five things I learned from talking with credit card experts about data breaches.
1. Put all automatic debits on one card and keep a list
One of the biggest headaches from having my card cancelled is that I didn't remember all of the places where I had signed up for an automatic debit on that specific card since I used multiple cards for automatic debit. Ulzheimer recommends putting all your recurring transactions on one credit card so that if something happens to that card it is easier to manage.
"If you are a heavy 'auto debiter,' then it is essential that you keep a list of all of the places you have signed up for auto debit so you can easily change your method of payment," he says.
2. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for automatic debit
Apparently one thing that I did right was use my credit card instead of debit card, especially for some of the automatic debits. Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of "Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made," knew of someone who had her entire checking account drained due to the Target breach and strongly recommends using credit cards, especially for automatic debits.
"You have more protection if someone gets your credit card number and will have zero liability for the charges," says Harzog. "With a debit card, it can take weeks to get the money back."
3. Sign up for email and text alerts
After apparently ruining my tween daughter's life because her music teacher said she needed to return the flute, I learned that the rental company offers text alerts if there is a problem with your account. Ulzheimer says that many companies have text and email notifications to allow you to keep up with your account.
"Sign up for as many alerts as you can to keep on top of payments clearing and issues," he says.
4. Check your credit card statement online weekly
While Target made national news for quite some time, not all data breaches are deemed newsworthy by mainstream media. Harzog recommends checking your credit card statement online every week for fraudulent charges.
"This allows you to quickly discover charges that you didn't make and take action to limit liability," she says.
5. Have a backup credit card
I learned my lesson the hard way about always having more than one credit card in your wallet and now carry at least two at all times. This way if my card is ever involved in another data breach, I will just need to pull out another card instead of having to borrow money from a friend who happened to be in the restaurant at the same time.
The good news is that I wasn't liable for any money stolen as a result of the breach -- all it cost me was several hours of time and frustration. I just hope that at some point in the near future, my kids will forget about the day that they were forced to eat nothing but soggy, overcooked veggies for lunch at school.