Update: The new eBay hack has customers changing passwords again. If you're sick of changing your password every month after yet another breach, it's time to consider a password management program like Avast Passwords.
The massive hack against Target, in which 40 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen, began with stolen login credentials from the air-conditioning repairman. This illustrates the old adage, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
While consumers can't control why a third party contractor would have external network access at a major retailer, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
How can I be notified if my email address or password was hacked?
Every two seconds in the US, someone becomes a victim of identity fraud. With 13.1 million victims last year and multiple companies (Facebook, Target, Neiman Marcus, Adobe) being exploited, there is a good chance you could be among them. You can use the Avast Hack Check tool to learn if your email address was included in a large data breach. This service allows you to enter an email address and will notify you if your address appears in any databases added to the service. I learned that my email address was stolen from the Adobe breach, but thankfully, I haven't been notified of anything else.
What’s your weakest link?
You can’t stop shopping, but there are things you can do (other than paying cash only) if you’ve become the victim of hacking.
1. Change your passwords We’ve talked about it plenty of times, but here's a reminder: Make passwords long and strong. Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password. eNcrYP0123tion$ is stronger than Encryption123. If you can't remember different passwords for all the accounts you have, use a password manager like Avast Passwords.
2. Monitor you accounts. Lots of us have automatic bill-pay set up and could literally go for weeks without checking our bank account, but it’s time to change that habit. Debit card users usually need to report fraud within 24 hours or you could be liable for the charge, so try to check your accounts for any suspicious activity every few days. My bank even calls me if they see a charge from an unexpected location or an unusually large purchase. I think that’s a good service. If you see something strange, notify your bank and cancel your credit card to reduce your risk of financial loss and identity theft.
3. Monitor your credit report. Target is offering their customers free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for a year. I took advantage of this myself because I can see new activity; for example, the addition of a new credit card or personal loan, or a lender’s review of the report as part of the process to approve a loan application. In the US, you're allowed one free credit report a year from each of the three credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free report.
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