Scrutiny can help alleviate credit card fraud

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Jim Leute
Thursday, December 19, 2013

JANESVILLE—Pay attention!

That's the universal advice from experts to customers worried that their credit or debit card information has fallen into the wrong hands.

Target said Thursday about 40 million credit and debit card accounts might be affected by a data breach for customers who swiped their cards at Target stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.

The stolen data include customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards, including Target brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard. 

“Obviously, this was a big one, and it becomes scary because Target has a huge reach in terms of the numbers of customers it has,” said Mark Gregory, senior vice president of private banking at Johnson Bank in Janesville.

“Fraud is out there, and it's out there on a daily basis.”

Gregory said people should review their statements in a timely manner, and it's even better if they can do it online. If they spot fraud, they should immediately contact their financial institution or the issuer of the card.

“Consumer protection laws are basically the same for debit and credit cards,” he said. “You have a 60-day window to dispute transactions.”

Once alerted to potential fraud, the issuer often will credit the person's account while the claim is investigated.

In some cases, it might be the financial institution or card issuer that tips the cardholder off to potential fraud.

“Once it happens, we're all notified of the breach by the agency that discovered it,” Gregory said. “At Johnson Bank, we'll immediately look into it, and if we think there's potential for fraud, we'll pick up the phone, give you a call and figure out a game plan.”

Often, he said, that means shutting down the card and issuing a new one.

Sandy Chalmers, administrator of state Division of Trade and Consumer Protection, said consumers should review their credit reports, which often provide the first signal of fraudulent activity or identity theft.

“If there's a problem there, an alert can be placed on the credit report that you might be a victim,” she said. “That requires creditors to take extra steps before opening new lines of credit.”

Chalmers said Wisconsin law mandates that Target—or any other retailer that's suffered a data breach—notify individual customers that their data has been compromised within 45 days. That notification, she said, could come in the form by email or regular mail.

“It's important to watch for that,” she said.

First and foremost, she said, consumers should be prudent reviewers of their financial statements and not wait for notification from the retailer or anyone else.

If fraud is suspected, people should file a report with their local police, which will be helpful as financial institutions or other card issuers investigate the claim, she said.

“We have found in general that the credit card issuers are very good at working with victims,” she said.

While Target said the breach has been corrected, consumers shouldn't let their guard down, Chalmers and Gregory said.

“Always pay attention to your statements, and if you suspect anything at any time, contact the issuer of the card and do it in the 60-day window when it's easier to resolve,” Gregory said.

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