As widely reported in the media, Target Department stores was recently a victim of a massive security breach. Credit and debit card information belonging to consumers who made purchases between Black Friday and mid-December has been obtained by hackers and may be sold to thieves hoping to cash in. The good news for consumers is that the quick discovery of the security breach has alerted the entire banking and credit industry, and most of the industry is closely watching out for suspicious transactions. Many banks are proactively alerting their customers that they are aware of the situation and have given assurances that customers will not be responsible for fraudulent charges. Federal law limits consumer's responsibility for fraudulent charges to $50, but most banks will not make a consumer pay anything. One reason that banks have been so proactive in addressing consumers' concerns may be a desire to avoid being inundated with requests to change account numbers. But, the banks' scrutiny comes at a cost to consumers, many of whom may experience difficulty getting legitimate charges approved. Additionally, some banks have limited the amounts that consumers can withdraw from ATM's.Despite these precautions by the banks, consumers need to take certain steps to protect themselves. Consumers should carefully review all bank and credit card statements to confirm that all charges are legitimate. If there is a fraudulent charge, consumers need to exercise their right to dispute the transaction The Fair Trade Commission has good instructions on how to do this on its website. It may be prudent to request a new account number from your bank, even if the bank says that it is not necessary. If a bank refuses to change an account number, then consumers might want to consider closing the compromised account and opening a new one. While consumers do have considerable protections from being ultimately responsible for fraudulent charges and withdrawals, the inconvenience of changing an account number or opening a new account may be better than having to deal with future hassles, inconvenience, and the temporary freezing of assets or credit. That is a decision that each consumer must make for themselves.
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