Prevent ID theft during a data breach

This Aug. 14, 2012 file photo shows a Home Depot store in Nashville, Tenn. On Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, the home improvement retailer said that it's looking into "unusual activity" and that it's working with both banks and law enforcement after suspicions of a credit card data breach. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Several big name retailers have experienced data breaches in the past year, in which millions of credit card accounts were stolen. If there’s a chance you were affected, but you’re not sure – what are you supposed to do?

The good news is that you’re not liable for any fraudulent charges on your stolen account numbers. The bad news is that you’ll have to do a little leg work to make sure your financial identity is protected.

A reported 56 million credit cards were stolen during a recent breach at The Home Depot, and customers are left wondering whether to take action or sit and wait.

Amanda Black is a victim of the Target security breach several months ago. She knew about the breach but did not contact the company to put a fraud alert on her accounts, which probably would have prevented her account from being emptied.

“I found out someone in Great Britain hacked my account and withdrew all of my money except 35 cents. So they were generous enough to leave me 35 cents,” she said.

Black will eventually be reimbursed, but in the meantime, she can’t use her credit card.

Doing nothing may land you in the same boat. Security experts say the moment you hear of a breach and you were a customer at that retailer, find out if they’re offering free credit monitoring for fraud and sign up.

If you paid with your debit card, contact your bank immediately and ask them to put a fraud alert on your account. Also, it’s important to pay very close attention to your account. Debit cards don’t have the same protections as credit cards, and debit transactions withdraw funds directly from your bank account.

Beware of fraudulent emails that appear to be from the retailer – oftentimes crooks will send fake links to get you to provide your account information. Instead, go to the retailer’s site directly by typing it into your browser.

If your card was compromised, you can still dispute the charges that are not yours.

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