Q&A: Tips for Safe Shopping With Credit, Debit Cards

(The Kansas City Star/MCT) -

Target Corp. said a data breach may have compromised the debit- and credit-card accounts of 40 million customers.

It’s a reminder to shoppers to play it safe. There are several steps consumers can use to protect themselves. Here are answers to some common questions.

QUESTION: What should I do if my card or cards have been compromised?

ANSWER: Experts say to close the account immediately by contacting the bank or company that issued you the card. It can be inconvenient to wait for a new account number and card, especially during the year-end shopping season. But it protects you from potential losses.

Watch your statement and report any transactions you did not authorize. Consumers are protected against fraudulent transactions.

Q: How long should I be vigilant if I suspect my information may have been compromised?

A: “Always. You need to always be checking your statements,” said Jana Castanon, media relations manager for Apprisen, a national nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency.

New information about data breaches often isn’t immediately public, but shoppers can be victimized quickly.

With online access, most consumers can see the activity on their accounts at any time. And scammers may wait before using a stolen account identity.

Q: Which is safer to use, a debit card or credit card?

A: Either is fine, but experts recommend choosing credit when you use a debit card.

Castanon said it moves the transaction under the consumer protections of the payments company, such as Visa, that may be stronger than the protections offered by the bank that issued you the card. The funds still will move like a debit, without exposing you to future payments or interest costs.

Q: What else can I do?

A: Arvest Bank offered these recommendations.

Destroy your receipts when discarding them, so that no one can pull personal information from them. Protect your card number, and don’t give it out over the phone to a caller unless you initiated the call to make a purchase from a reputable company.

Q: Is it safer to shop online?

A: Target said its online shoppers weren’t compromised, but online transactions present their own dangers. Experts advise shoppers to deal with recognized vendor sites and do what they can to ensure the transaction is secured, often with an image of a closed padlock.

Be alert to where links on a site actually take you. Hover over the link with your cursor and the address will be displayed on your screen. If it doesn’t look right, the link may be sending you to a scam.