Target. Michaels. Neiman-Marcus. Heartbleed.
It seems like the data breaches keep coming one after another. There are worries that cases of identity threat are on the rise.
But you have the power to protect yourself.
According to Matt Schulz, Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com, there's good news: "You have much more power than you realize when it comes to protecting yourself from data breaches," he says. "All of these scary headlines can make people feel helpless and hopeless – but there are easy and free things that you can do to really make a difference."
Here are five simple tips from CreditCards.com that you can do right now to help protect you when the next major breach hits the headlines:
1. Choose credit over debit
When it comes to identity theft and fraud, credit cards are clearly a better choice. That's because a debit card grants access to money in a bank account, whereas a credit card just extends credit. So while a fraudulent charge on a credit card can be dismissed by an issuer with no expense to the cardholder, a fraudulent withdrawal on a debit card means that real money is now gone from the cardholder's account until the bank replaces the funds.
2. Check your credit card account statements weekly
Whether we like it or not, much of the burden of discovering fraudulent charges falls to the consumer, so check your credit card statements online once a week. Virtually all issuers have made it quick and easy to access your account information through their websites, so it should only take a couple of minutes of your time to skim through your recent charges and see if anything looks strange. If it does, inform the issuer immediately. And if you haven't yet signed up for online access to your accounts, do it now. Immediately. It's important.
3. Make checking your online bank statement part of your daily routine
Because debit cards carry more risk, check your checking, savings and other bank accounts as often as you feel comfortable. Checking once a week is likely fine. However, consider making a quick, one-minute check of your checking account part of your routine each day. Why check your bank accounts so much? Because federal law says that you're only liable for $50 worth of fraudulent charges on a debit card if you report them within two days of the fraud. After two days, that number grows to $500, and after 60 days, there's no cap at all. Scary stuff.
4. Take advantage of your free credit reports.
Your credit report will show you all of the accounts that are associated with your name and Social Security number – allowing you to see if anyone has created accounts in your name with your knowledge. To get your free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com – the only site that gives actual free credit reports with no strings attached. You can get one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) every 12 months, and you can choose to get all three of them at the same time or to spread them out over the course of a year.
5. Change your passwords regularly – and don't use the same ones across all of your accounts.
Changing passwords is vital because it essentially makes your account a moving target and renders any old password as useless as a floppy disk. But most people hardly ever change their passwords, and hackers take full advantage of that fact to steal huge amounts of money. Hackers also love when people use the same passwords for multiple accounts. For a hacker, that's like finding the Holy Grail. Also, don't make your password your birth date or "password" or your kid's name or 12345. Hackers may be bad people, but they're not dumb. Don't give them the gift of making your password too easy to guess.