Don't Be a Victim of Fraud: 9 Simple Ways to Protect Your Financial Data

Have recent security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus left you worried about your data?

Feb 2, 2014 at 2:27PM
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Have recent security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus left you worried about your data? More than 70 million customers at Target may have had their information compromised in a massive security breach. According to theIdentity Theft Resource Center , from 2005-2013 there have been 4,253 breaches reported — with 619 just in the last year.

Don't be a victim of fraud. Take these simple steps to secure your data:

1. Be vigilant
Check your debit and credit card statements line by line to make sure that every purchase on your card was made by you. If you utilize online banking, check your account periodically so that you can dispute any charges before more damage is done. Crooks often make small, petty charges because those purchases are less likely to be noticed by consumers. If you aren't consistently checking your accounts, a thief can continue to make charges on your card knowing that they are going through.

2. Use personal finance services
Utilize personal finance tools like Mint.com to help you monitor card activity and see what transactions have been made. Also, consider using bill-monitoring services like BillGuard to keep track of any suspicious charges. If you're one of the victims of the Target breach, use their free credit-monitoring services. Find out more information here .

3. Shred everything
If you are getting rid of your debit or credit card statements — or any document that might have personal information on it — make sure to tear it up or shred it before tossing it in the trash. You don't want to leave anything to chance, so get rid of your data properly.

4. Shop online carefully
If you are going to purchase items online, make sure you are shopping at a trusted retailer. If you shop online using a public WiFi connection, consider getting a VPN, which is generally more secure. You might also consider getting a second card just to make online purchases with — in case you're the victim of a breach, your other accounts will be safe at least.

5. Watch out for traps
Be suspicious of emails from sources that you don't know. Don't click on any links in those emails. Also, change your passwords regularly, be sure to logout of all accounts when you are done with your transactions, and create passwords that aren't easy to guess. Don't use 12345 as a password, please. Don't make it easy for hackers to hack you!

6. Know where you're giving away data
If you have to give out personal information like your Social Security Number know how it will be used and if it will be shared. Giving away your SSN is fine for tax purposes and to verify credit or employment. But make sure that you are aware of the other ways that you share personal data — and all the risks involved.

7. Opt out of credit card offers and get your free annual report
To minimize the amount of pre-approved credit card offers that you get in the mail, call 888-5OPT-OUT. Note: You will be asked for your Social Security number. Reducing the amount of offers you receive will mean less paper to shred and diminish the ability of thieves to take advantage of you. To get your free annual credit report, the only source you should go to is:AnnualCreditReport.com . Look at your credit report and note any discrepancies you might have.

8. If you have had your data compromised, don't panic — notify
If you think you're a victim of fraud , notify your credit card company or bank immediately so you don't lose more money. You are liable for no more than $50 if you are a victim of credit card fraud thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act — but you must report the fraud within 60 days. Generally, major credit cards usually waive more than the $50, but not always.

Victims of debit card fraud, unfortunately, have less protections and are liable for up to $500 thanks to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. If you report the fraud within two business days, you could be on the hook for as little as $50. If your debit card has been compromised, the bank will decide to investigate and determine whether they will credit the amount back into your account. Protect your data and change passwords so you don't fall victim to more theft.

9. Freeze your credit
If you think that your data has been compromised, you can "freeze" your credit for free if you're a victim of fraud. A credit freeze means your credit files will be taken out of circulation so no new lenders can access your reports to extend credit.

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This article originally appeared on MyBankTracker.com

MyBankTracker has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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