A larger retailer admitted recently that hackers were able to steal credit and debit card data for about 40 million customers. Reports say that names, payment card numbers, expiration dates and security codes have been stolen.

Since I am customer for the retailer, I am very concerned. And I am unhappy that the retailer has exposed 40 million customers to this risk. And I am angry with these criminals.

What can retail customer do to reduce damage from this data breach?

Suggestions elsewhere,

  • Check your credit card or bank statement for fraudulent activity.
  • Report fraud or suspicious activity to your financial institution.
  • Report detected fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, 877-438-4338.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit report.
  • Place a security freeze on your credit report.

But what else can I do to mitigate any problems from this data breach? Should I contact the retailer and find out whether my information was exposed? Should I close my accounts? Should I seek legal relief from the retailer?

  • Great question. Making it about the Target breach is probably too localized, but the Target breach is a great example. A great answer should cover the steps to follow for any such data breach, debit or credit. Should we tag this with a country? Will the effect be the same in the US as in Canada?
    – MrChrister
    Dec 19, 2013 at 20:01
  • The Target data breach affects 40M people, including me, so I thought it timely and topical. As a recovering debtor, I have been trying to avoid credit, and now this happens. sigh. Dec 19, 2013 at 22:37
  • Our local paper once printed the names and phone numbers of all their customers along with active credit card details. They then wrapped bundles of Sunday papers with it to drop off to stores and newsstands. At least Target was hacked, not like they did this on purpose. Dec 20, 2013 at 1:42
  • @ChuckCottrill - absolutely, my family was hit as well. But one of the tenets of our site is to avoid localized topics in time. I just wanted to remind any potential answers of that fact. Target is a terrific example, but a truely valuable answer that "makes the Internet better" will be more than just one incident.
    – MrChrister
    Dec 20, 2013 at 1:57
  • Ok. Edited to make it less about Target, more about how to detect and react to any such problem. Dec 20, 2013 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


The target breach has nothing to do with identity data and everything to do with credit/debit card numbers and security codes being skimmed. The only cards that are at risk are cards that you have used to make purchases at that store during the times that they were vulnerable.

I will leave it to others to discuss recovery from identity information leaks, and I will focus specifically on the electronic skimming attack. These attacks have been known for a while and have been reported on a local level concerning gas stations and poor security on their card readers at gas pumps. When a user would scan their debit cards and enter the pin number, the skimmer would take that data and make ATM withdrawals. Target is a victim here too, we'll have to wait to find out if they were negligent or not.

No matter how you choose to transact your purchases, there will always be some risk with the method. This info applies to transactions inside the US.


If you make all your purchases with cash you will probably tend to carry it in larger quantities than if you make the majority of your purchases with a card. When you misplace your wallet you can't cancel your federal reserve notes and minimize the loss as you can with plastic. One advantage is that you don't have to go over your card statements looking for mistakes each month if everything is paid in cash. Cash is generally accepted everywhere so it is good to have some on hand for emergencies. I usually carry between $20-$40 with me everywhere. I used to keep an additional $200 hidden in my car, but now I keep it in an emergency backpack in my house with a 72 hour supply of food, water, and other emergency essentials. I have that money in a large variety of denominations because I don't expect anyone to have change (or to admit to having change) during an emergency.

ATM cards

These cards generally require you to enter a pin so that it is unlikely for anyone to be able to withdraw cash without your knowledge. They are vulnerable to the skimming attacks where a new ATM card is created from the information stolen by a transaction on a compromised system. Banks don't always indemnify you against losses through ATM withdrawals, so you could lose a very large amount of money if you are a victim of these attacks. I regard ATM cards to be an unacceptably high risk. I only resort to ATM withdrawals if I have no other payment options and my usual $20 isn't enough for what I need. (I've used one once in the last 3 years.)

Debit cards

Debit cards are a combination of an ATM/credit cards. They can be used for ATM/debit transaction and require a pin and have the same pros and cons as the ATM card above. They additionally provide the convenience of being usable on a credit card network (usually Visa in my experience) but instead of having a credit limit the money is directly withdrawn from a deposit account at your banking institution. They don't always come with the same guarantees as credit cards even when performing "credit" network transactions. Another plus is that you have the convenience of a credit card but less temptation to go into debt if you have no credit line associated with the card.

Credit cards

I could write for pages, but I'm going to try to keep it brief. Credit cards are very safe with anti-fraud measures built-in and limited liability for the user. They are also very lucrative to the issuer not only because they get a percentage of every transaction, but also because people like to hold high balances and pay high interest rates on those balances. Credit cards have a lot of gimmicks to attract users who would otherwise stick with cash or an ATM card. Some of these include a percentage of cash back on purchases or airline miles, or baggage fees waived, and other various schemes to instill both loyalty in a customer and incentive to use their card instead of one of the many others in your wallet. These rewards are worth taking if you have the discipline to pay your balances in full each month and stick to a budget that you have planned in advance. I do the majority of my purchases on one rewards card and I pay the balance in full.

I also discuss major purchases with my wife at the beginning of each month, so I don't fall victim to a lot of impulse buys--but those can hit you no matter the payment method if you don't have a spending plan. Having a large open balance on a credit card may make it easier to do so, so that's an argument against credit cards if you have a weakness for impulse shopping.

On a related note, don't take pictures of your card and share it through instagram/twitter. https://twitter.com/NeedADebitCard

  • Excellent summary of the dangers, but as a recovering debtor, I have been trying to avoid credit cards. sigh. Dec 19, 2013 at 22:39
  • My cousin who is a banker explained it to me quite simply: When you have a fraud charge on a credit card it's the bank's money and they are federally required to limit the liability note that most give you a benefit of zero rather than 50$. However a debit card is your money that the bank is trying to get back and liability limits are much more lax depending on the time you report the theft.
    – Jacob
    Jan 7, 2014 at 22:40

I believe the answer is that to answer the protecting yourself is to get credit protection so you will be notified when new credit is taken in your name.

Also, you can use http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ to look at your credit report. It really pays to keep an eye on it yourself.

HINT: On Transunion you have the option to DISPUTE adverse items.

I always suggest that people dispute everything adverse. That puts the onus on the other parties to produce evidence to TransUnion within 30 days attesting to the validity of the adverse item.

You would be surprised how many will simply drop off your report after doing this.

Here is a direct way to get to TransUnion:


--> Once they have removed the adverse items, it is communicated to the other bureaus.

It is amazing how well it works. It can raise your credit score significantly.


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