NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The news that more than 40 million Target (TGT) customers paying by credit or debit cards for their holiday shopping purchases over the past three weeks may have been hacked is stunning and scary. But if you happen to be one of those whose card's information was compromised, it doesn't mean the end to your plastic shopping habits.
But what it does bring to light is a lesson in financial responsibility.
The Minneapolis-based retailer confirmed on Thursday that it was aware of "unauthorized access" to payment card data that "may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases in its U.S. stores" between Nov. 27 -- the day before Thanksgiving and just before the Black Friday shopping weekend -- and Dec. 15.
Customer names, credit or debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes on the backs of cards were among the list of compromised data, Target said.
Given the level of sophistication of the card compromises -- reports are saying that hackers likely targeted Target's point-of-sale system, i.e. the cash registers used to ring up purchases, and that it was possibly an inside job -- it's unlikely that a consumer could have avoided it, unless they used cash.
Unfortunately the reality today is that despite high-tech banking and payment systems, there are equally brilliant, yet malicious minds that want to compromise those systems.
So while it might not be all that preventable, customers can mitigate the level of how much they are affected by the hackings.
"The biggest takeaway is the responsibility for your credit and banking information belongs with you," says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com, a marketplace for consumers to find credit cards that best match their lifestyle and credit score.
"There is a misconception that banks will catch it," Woolsey says. "That's does happen sometimes, but more often than not a consumer has to catch it and notify the bank."
As well, the protections afforded to credit cards and debit cards differ vastly. While credit cards are protected under federal guidelines, debit cards are less so. Meaning that a customer can potentially be liable if the fraud is on their debit card as opposed to a credit card, Woolsey notes.