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So Your Credit Card Was Hacked, Now What?

If you do find yourself with a compromised card, the first and most important step is: Don't panic.

"Any kind of data breach does not expose a person to identify theft, it just exposes you to card theft," Woolsey says.

Next: Contact your card issuer or bank to inform them of the situation. Most likely the most prudent action will be to cancel the card and get a new account number.

After that: Be diligent about keeping tabs on your accounts, particularly debit accounts. Monitor statements regularly to keep track of any suspicious activity. Banks make it easy these days with mobile apps where customers can set up text or email alerts for suspicious activity or if accounts fall below a certain minimum.

"Most people don't check their debit card transactions. They don't check their bank balances on a regular [basis], he says. "You can potentially get your entire balance wiped out by a breach."

Consumers should specifically look out for small purchases, sometimes for just a few cents. Woolsey says these are purchases where the hacker may be testing the account to see if they can get authorization -- making way for an eventual larger transaction.

"If all of a sudden you see that on your account, that's certainly a harbinger of bad things to come," Woolsey says.

You may want to contact one of the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax or TransUnion -- to put a fraud alert on your card.

"That's a free thing and will last for 90 days that would keep a criminal from setting up any new credit, but that is more applicable if you've had your identity stolen," Woolsey says.

If it makes consumers feel more comfortable though, by all means contact the credit bureaus. Just be aware that putting a fraud alert on your credit history works both ways. A criminal may not be able to set up new credit but neither can you, so if you're taking out a loan or getting another credit card, be sure to take the fraud alert off.

Finally: Don't be nervous to shop at Target or another retailer after the attack.

Typically, it's the largest stores that have the best security measures, but nothing is perfect.

"There is no way to completely protect yourself unless you pay cash at point of sale, but using a credit card will always be more secure than using a debit card," Woolsey says. "You're always going to have a lot better protections with a credit card."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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