Q: It is time for the credit card companies to come up with something new to protect their customers. Short of millions of customers canceling their credit cards, what can we do to protect ourselves? Just because crooks have the information doesn't mean they will use it right away. It could be months before they use anyone's information, so checking now for activity could miss it.
Singletary: In its most recent identity theft report, Javelin said one in four people notified of a breach ended up becoming a fraud victim. So if you shopped at Target during the period its system was compromised, you need to take steps to protect yourself. If you see any unauthorized activity, contact your credit card company or your financial institution. In addition, contact the FTC at 877-438-4338. You can find information about other steps you can take at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
Most importantly, you will need to monitor your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You should be checking your reports as a routine precaution. You can get free copies of your credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. You are entitled to one free report from each bureau every 12 months. Additionally, identity theft victims are entitled to a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus. If you do become a victim or are worried about your information being stolen, you can place extended fraud alerts or credit freezes on your credit files. To find out more how each works, go to www.ftc.gov and click on the link for "Tips & Advice." Under the consumer section, you will find an identity fraud link, which includes information on placing both extended fraud alerts and credit freezes on your credit reports.