A new data breach at almost all Target stores across the country could be one of the largest data breaches in history.
The breach may have affected as many as 40 million people who used their credit or debit cards in a Target store in the three weeks between Black Friday (November 27) and December 15, the busiest shopping time of the year.
The Secret Service is investigating the breach which may have taken place in nearly all of Target's 1,797 stores throughout the country. Initial reports suggest that personal information on online sales was not compromised.
Thieves are reported to have stolen information stored on the magnetic stripe on the backs of credit or debit cards. The criminals may have access to names, card numbers and three-digit security codes. This information would allow thieves to create counterfeit credit cards, and possibly allow them to make purchases and withdraw cash from ATM machines.
Here are some tips for consumers who feel they may have been affected:
* Check your credit and debit card accounts regularly for any unauthorized charges. Don't just look for large purchases. Hackers sometimes make small transactions since they are more likely to fly under the radar. Be persistent with watching your accounts--it may be months or even a year before thieves actually use your card.
* Check your credit reports. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228 to order. You can also place a fraud alert at the three major credit bureaus. This will put a security freeze on your files. Call Experian at 888-397-3742; Equifax at 800-525-6285; and TransUnion at 800-680-7289.
* Contact your issuer if you feel your account has been compromised and ask for a new card.