There is suspicious activity on your MasterCard in the amount of $99.99 at Target. If this is your valid charge, press 1, if not press 2. “Hmmm, not mine,” I think as I sit on the deck in the afternoon sun. Turns out, it was not my husband’s either. “Ya, I got hacked today. They charged $99.99 on my Visa as well.” Yikes! (FYI, if you are a hacker or credit card thief, be aware that $100 is apparently not the magic threshold for the credit card companies. Lucky for us.)

Identify theft, credit card theft, hacking, ransomware, the list goes on and on with all that you have to be aware of and nervous about. What got Tom was a click on the “Where are They Now” pop up for child actors. (I am pretty sure I have clicked through those pix in a moment of procrastination myself!) Up came a demand to pay up or they were going to sell his credit card to thieves around the internet. We aren’t exactly sure how they were able to get the card numbers (not stored in a browser) but apparently they did get those two.

What now?

I am no security expert but I do help my clients on occasion when their virtual reality becomes their actual reality, and they have to try to undo the damage from a random click. Plus, I am in the process of doing all of this stuff, too! Here are a few things to get in place if that happens:

  • Understand your Credit Monitoring Service: If you have something in place (LifeLock or one of the many that have come up from all of the data breaches), understand your responsibilities, how it works, and what you need to do. Usually, you must review “credit alerts” and respond if the activity is not yours. Do that. Every. Single. Time.
    • Have their contact number in your phone and keep your log-in info in your usual password “safe place” so that you log-in right away.
    • Understand if they will do credit agency notifications in the event of lost or stolen card numbers.
  • Call the bank and Credit Card Companies: As a result of my “pressing 2,” my card company contacted me, ran through the list of recent of charges to eliminate the fraudulent ones, and ordered me new cards. Boom!
    • If they don’t do that, you contact them. You can put them on alert for fraud without canceling if you are unsure whether your account has been compromised.
  • Credit Agencies:
    • Freeze Your Credit: This locks down your credit and the agencies will not release your credit to anyone (including your valid credit application!) If you plan to refinance your house, rent an apartment, co-sign student loans, or get the discount deal at your local department store for getting their credit card, then this is not right for you. You have to unfreeze your credit, apply, and then refreeze.
      • This might be great for your kids or college students! Many identity thieves target young kids knowing that it may be years before they are old enough to check their credit.
    • Place a Fraud Alert: For 90 days, anyone pulling your credit has to verify your identity. This can help stop instances of new credit being issued fraudulently but will not prevent access on your existing credit.
    • For more info, go to this site regarding credit freeze . To place such an alert or a freeze, contact one of the credit agencies.
  • Monitor your bank and credit card activity: Log-in regularly and scan the charges. Alert the credit card company immediately. (You can dispute a charge online but do follow up with a call to cancel the card and get a new one issued.)
    • Remember to contact companies that auto-bill your credit card each month. Health clubs, cell phone, utilities, etc. Scan the prior month’s charges and start logging in to change the card number. You don’t want to suddenly see late fees when the card declines!
  • Run virus scans and malware scans on your PC immediately: Next Gen Secure Web Gateway says your anti-virus and other malware tools should detect any software that the hacker may have installed. Contact your computer tech if you feel unsure or want a pro to take a look. It will be worth the price just in peace-of-mind.

The good news is that this is a common occurrence now and companies are ready to work through it. (I guess that is also the bad news!) Regardless, be careful out there! And really, you don’t need to know where those child actors are now. Perhaps just play solitaire instead.

To your financial success (and safety!),