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When credit cards are compromised by thieves

How to tell when your card's been stolen

By Todd Ossenfort

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The Credit Guy, Todd Ossenfort, is a credit expert and answers readers' questions about credit, counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
Recently, Hannaford Brothers had a security issue with millions of credit card numbers being exposed. More than 1,800 people have reported fraud usage of their credit card numbers. I have a Visa card that I have used several times at one of the affected Hannaford Brothers grocery stores. When I called my creditor, I was told there was no reason to cancel the card and that I would not have to pay for any fraudulent charges on my card, etc. I have not received a bill since the security breach occurred. Should I cancel this card or take my creditor's advice to "not worry"?
-- Patricia

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Patricia,
Theft of your personal financial information is definitely something about which to "worry" or at least be concerned. It is true that you are not responsible for fraudulent charges on your credit card if it is stolen or lost. Federal law limits your amount of liability to $50 once you report a loss or theft and many issuers will not find you liable for anything. However, you must be aware of the fraudulent charges to report them as such to your creditor.

What often happens when a particular credit card account has been compromised is that the thief contacts your creditor and using your account information, requests a change in the billing address and requests an additional card on the account. In this way the thief can use your account for as long as it takes you to realize that you have not received a statement on that account and begin to look into matters.

Because you are aware of the account that may be used by an identity thief, you are ahead of the game. Here are some red flags to watch for in regards to your current account and for identity theft in general:

•  Your monthly billing statement is not arriving in the mail.
•  Billing statements include charges you did not make.
•  You are contacted by creditors or collection agencies regarding accounts that you do not have.
•  Account statements show withdrawals or transfers you did not initiate.
•  You are denied when you apply for credit for which you believe you should qualify.
•  You receive monthly statements for accounts that do not belong to you.

As far as your questions regarding closing your account, it is up to you. I would get the full "not worry" statement in writing from your creditor. It could be that your account information will not be used by a thief. It could also be that the information will be saved and used a year or two from now, when you will have let down your guard. My suggestion is to contact the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. One other thing to consider is if the account is one of your longer-standing accounts, your credit score may dip slightly if the account is closed.

With a fraud alert in place on your credit report, any creditor viewing your report will have to contact you first before opening any new accounts or changing anything on your existing accounts. You can request an extended fraud alert that will stay on your report for seven years. With an extended alert, it will take a little longer for you to open new credit accounts, but the peace of mind it offers may be worth it.

Take care of your credit!

Todd Ossenfort is the chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling in Rapid City, S.D. Pioneer Credit Counseling has been a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies since 1997.

The Credit Guy answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
Send your question to The Credit Guy.

Published: April 14, 2008


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