Consumers must be vigilant about credit protection

The number of people facing potential problems because of security breaches with personal information seems to grow every day.

Target reported 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million other records containing customer data were stolen during the holiday shopping season as part of a cyber attack.

Protecting your credit today is of paramount importance.

Target announced it will offer one year of free credit monitoring to customers who had information compromised in the data breach and to all Target customers of U.S. stores.

Persons who suspect they may be part of that breach should follow suggestions being offered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Those suggestions include checking credit card and debit card accounts regularly and monitoring accounts to look for suspicious activity. If errors are found, immediately notify your credit or debit card provider.

Change your PIN numbers and passwords for any affected accounts.

Watch for possible “phishing” scams designed to obtain additional personal or financial information.

When a security breach is announced, scammers may create phony messages or websites to take advantage of consumers.

Place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion – to place an initial fraud alert, which will stay on a credit report for 90 days. The alert is free of charge and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.

Check your credit report at Everyone is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

Persons can pull all three at once, or stagger pulling reports throughout the year.

Last week also was Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

The state attorney general’s office reported it received more than 100 complaints involving tax-related identity theft. This type of fraud can occur when an imposter obtains a taxpayer’s personal information, files the taxpayer’s return and receives the taxpayer’s refund.

One recent media report stated organized crime is becoming involved in tax identity crime by obtaining personal information about persons and filing tax returns, resulting in millions of dollars in refunds being fraudulently obtained.

Corporations need to do more to protect the personal information of customers, but all consumers need to be vigilant in watching their accounts for suspicious activity and immediately notifying banks or businesses so they can protect their valuable credit rating.