If you use a bank debit card to make purchases, you're almost by definition at risk of a data breach that could compromise your finances and cost you $50, $500 or even every last cent in your bank account.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to limit your risk and exposure to loss, according to three advocacy groups -- the National Consumer Law Center, Consumer Action and U.S. PIRG, which teamed up to offer some timely tips for consumers.
Federal law limits your financial responsibility for debit card fraud to $50, if you notify your bank within two days of the incident. After that, your exposure is capped at $500, if you notify your bank within 60 days after you receive your bank statement.
But if you receive your statement and still wait another 60 days or longer to report fraudulent activity, your liability for the loss could be unlimited. That means you need to monitor your account and act fast to protect yourself if it's compromised.
Some banks might offer you better protection. But even then, you won't be able to access any funds that were siphoned out of your account until your bank reverses the fraudulent charges.
If you're concerned about how a security breach might affect your credit rating, "check your credit report, but don't panic," the groups advised.
You can check a credit report from each of the three credit-reporting bureaus free once each year online, so there's no need to pay for a monthly credit-monitoring service to do this for you. Nor do you need to pay for expensive credit monitoring or fraud detection services, the groups said.
The strongest prevention against having your identity stolen after a data security breach is a freeze that prevents credit reporting bureaus from allowing potential new creditors to obtain your credit report.
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