Target's hackers: Protect yourself from credit and identity theft

Target's recent security breach is a reminder that credit and identity theft can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Protect yourself. Photo: JEFF CHIU/AP

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2013 – Target revealed last week that hackers stole over 40 million customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip found on the back of cars.  

The security code numbers on the back of the cards were not stolen, nor were PIN numbers on debit cards (Update 2 p.m. ET: Target now reporting that PIN numbers were stolen). 

SEE RELATED: States in the U.S. known for credit card fraud

Consumers are minimally at risk for the false use of these cards. Federal regulations limit consumer liability for unauthorized use of a credit card to $50 when a credit card is lost or stolen. Where the card number is stolen, there is no liability for unauthorized use. 

Debit cardholders have a bit more at risk. If an unauthorized use occurs because of a data breach, the cardholder has 60 days from the date their bank or credit union sent them a statement to report the suspect charge. Failure to report that charge within that deadline means the cardholder is responsible for the full amount charged. 

If you find an authorized charge or withdrawal you should immediately call and report it to your issuing bank or credit union, and a follow-up letter should be sent. It would not be overkill to make a copy of the letter and to send it registered, return receipt requested, as proof of receipt of the communication.  

Target did not disclose exactly how hackers the breach was accomplished, however, they have advised they have fixed the problem. The stolen cards, nonetheless, have already shown up on the black market. They are reportedly being sold from $20 to $100 each in batches of one million cards.

SEE RELATED: Protect yourself from income tax return, identity theft scams

The theft of a consumer’s card information is financial theft. The bigger concern is identity theft. With enough bits of information about you, an identity thief can become your worst nightmare. This theft was not identity theft.  

It matters, however, because there is an infinitesimally small chance that the information on the card can be matched with other information “out there” about you, and can then be used to allow someone to assume your identity and wreak havoc in your life.

Identity thieves, becoming you, can make endless purchases in your name to the point of draining you financially and putting you into bankruptcy. They can commit crimes in your name, obtain medical services, work and not pay taxes, and much, much more. 

Target held itself responsible, admirably, and offered free credit reports to any affected, along with a ten percent discount at its stores.  

SEE RELATED: Hacker news: Guccifer strikes again, hacktivist Hammond pleads guilty

The free credit report however is not a big deal. Everyone is legally entitled to a free credit report. If done correctly, everyone can get a free credit report three times per year.

Federal legislation in the form of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, requires each of the three nationwide credit report agencies – TransUnion, Equifax and Experian - to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year upon your request. Accordingly, if a report from TransUnion is requested in January, then from Equifax in in May, and then from Experian in September, credit checking occurs three times per year for free.

You want to check your credit report because it is the first place that can provide a warning about something amiss, notwithstanding that you might otherwise be diligent in checking your monthly card statements.

Call 1-877-322-8228, go onto the Internet to the Annual Credit Report website, or mail a request to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA  33048-5281, to get your free report. 

The website just provided is THE ONLY website authorized by the government to fill orders for the free report. Other companies provide websites that advertise “free credit reports” or “free credit scores” or “free credit monitoring” when in fact they are nothing more than “bait and switch” scams that have strings attached. 

Where the “free” product might be free for a very limited period, often the service continues and converts to one where you must pay for it, and this continuation occurs automatically if you do not cancel. The company’s fine-print offer allows them to start charging your credit card if you do not cancel within the trial period. 

Beware imposter sites that use “free” in their names.

Neither nor the credit reporting agencies will send you an email asking for you to sign up. They do not ask for you personal information. There are no pop-up ads placed by them.  

If you encounter this, it should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

When requesting a free credit report, you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. Depending which agency you working with, different personal questions, known only to you, may be asked to maintain security. The reason for the difference is that each agency has different information on file, and may require verification.

When checking a credit report, among other things, the following should be accurate:

(1) The consumer’s prior addresses and telephone numbers.

(2) The consumer’s current bank accounts and loans in the consumer’s name, including payment history.

(3) The identity of companies that have accessed the consumer’s credit information. 

An identity breach requires professional help to resolve. Only a professional with experience can get you back to pre-theft status. Most legitimate companies that offer credit monitoring do nothing to help someone other than to notify them that a breach has occurred. There is nothing inherently wrong with charging $15 to $30 to monitor credit activity. But they only monitor.

An organization called LegalShield has an excellent plan that includes not only credit monitoring for the consumer, the consumer’s family and the consumer’s children, but it works with a world renowned fraud investigation and risk mitigation company called Kroll International to provide identity theft resolution. 

The price is similar or less for the entire package than some companies that only provide monitoring.

Visit a site like Legal Shield and protect yourself. The Target breach and more will happen again.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. 

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?” can be reviewed online. The book can be ordered at

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

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