3 Things to Do If Your Credit Card or Debit Card Is Involved in a Data Breach

3 Things to Do If Your Credit Card or Debit Card Is Involved in a Data Breach article image.

There were more than 1,500 data breaches last year and it doesn't look like the identity thieves, hackers and scam artists who prey on stealing your personal and financial data are going to quit anytime soon.

If your data is included in one of these massive breaches, you'll need to take action fast to protect yourself. Here's what do do when you find out your credit card or debit card has been compromised.

A breach may be limited to just scooping up your credit or debit card information, but it can often include other personal account data that can be used to exploit your identity for any number of crimes.

Some examples include: draining your bank account and placing unauthorized purchases on your card, opening new credit in your name, and using your data to fraudulently file your taxes and get your tax refund.

Thieves target valuable information, such as your full name, date of birth, gender, email address, Social Security number, phone number and more.

What Is a Payment Card Data Breach?

One common type of data breach is what's known as a payment card breach. This is when the payment card information kept in a database of a retailer or company is hacked or information is leaked. This can include credit card numbers, debit card numbers, addresses

What to Do If Your Card Data Is Breached

Here are the important steps you should take if your credit card or debit card is part of a data breach:

1. Cancel Your Card

Call your bank or card issuer and request a new credit or debit card. If a debit card was involved, you'll also want to change the PIN on the account. Some banks and issuers automatically shut down your card and send a new one when they know it's been compromised.

2. Check Your Accounts

You'll also want to check bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity or purchases, as well as going online to check recent activity.

If your card is used before you're aware of the data breach and its used by a thief, you'll need to make sure you dispute the charges with your bank or card issuer immediately.

This process can be a bit lengthier with a debit card, but you'll want to flag any potential debit or credit card fraud as soon as possible.

With a debit card, you've got 60 days to report an unauthorized transaction from the time you receive your statement because the credit card number was stolen and the card wasn't lost.

Note: According to the FTC, if your card is stolen and used, you could end up responsible for up to $500. On credit cards, you won't have any liability when your credit card number is stolen. Be sure to check future statements, as well.

3. Change Passwords

Your next step is to change your passwords on those accounts, as well as the password to any account that's been breached. If you re-use some form of those passwords on other accounts, it's a good idea to change those, too.

Other Options After a Data Breach

Assuming you've reported any unauthorized transaction immediately to the credit card or debit card issuer and since a card can easily be canceled, you may not need to take additional action other than keeping an eye on your card statements and credit reports.

However, if there is additional personal information that was included in the data breach or you want to be extra cautious, and report it to one of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and Transunion—and ask for a fraud alert to be placed on your account.

The free alert is good for at least 90 days and the credit bureau is required to share the alert with the other bureaus. If you are confirmed to be a victim of identity theft, you can file an identity theft report with the FTC and extend the fraud alert for seven years or get a free credit freeze.

For more protection, you can also consider freezing your credit reports, which prevents any new credit accounts from being opened in your name. Typically, you'll pay for the freeze (unless you're the victim of identity theft) and, if you need to get a mortgage, car loan or open any kind of credit line, you'll likely have to pay to thaw it, too.

A freeze can cost up to $20 though it's usually around $10 and, typically, you'll pay $3 to $12 to remove a freeze. You can find a state-by-state list of details, fees and conditions on freezes here, and information on unfreezing here.

All this can seem like a hassle, but it's much, much better to be proactive and take steps to cut off ID thieves before they get into your accounts, or at least as soon as you see they've attacked you. Otherwise, it can be a lengthy and expensive chore to set things right.