In the past few weeks, multiple reports of payment card data breaches at some of the nation's largest retailers -- including Target and Neiman Marcus -- have revealed a harsh reality to American consumers: their debit and credit card information could have been in the hands of cybercriminals for months without knowing about it. Don't be surprised if more data breaches at retailers come to light.
Fortunately, with the help of financial tools, consumers can keep a close eye on their accounts for any suspicious activity with these free tools:
Your bank's account alerts system
Most banks offer account alerts through emails, text messages and mobile-app notifications, which are triggered when a certain transaction occurs or when your balance reaches a certain amount.
For instance, you can configure an alert that will notify you when a purchase of $100 or more is made by your account. But, note that many cybercriminals will test stolen card information by making small purchases first.
(Note that carrier fees for data and text messaging may apply.)
Mint allows you to aggregate all your financial accounts into one place, so that it's easy to check all your financial transactions in one fell swoop -- as opposed to logging into every single account. Mint also has native mobile apps that make it easy to look over your accounts anytime.
Every week, take a quick glance over your recent activity to catch any fraudulent activity, so that you can report it earlier.
There are other alternatives to Mint that will show transactions on financial accounts (e.g., Check and Personal Capital).
Called the "antivirus for your bills," BillGuard taps a crowdsourced community to catch suspicious charges that appear on your card accounts. When members flag a fraudulent charge on their accounts, other BillGuard members will be alerted when a similar charge shows up.
It offers mobile apps that will alert you when a questionable charge is flagged. With BillGuard, you don't have to be as proactive in reviewing your account transactions.
Credit monitoring services
Several free credit-monitoring services will watch your credit reports for any changes that occur -- good or bad. Credit Karma, Credit Sesame and Quizzle will track changes to members' credit profiles and help them gauge their creditworthiness with a credit score (not the industry --standard FICO score).
Even if they don't provide the exact same credit scores that lenders use, they allow you to see if your personal information was used to conduct identity theft and to open other credit accounts.
Simon Zhen is a writer for MyBankTracker.com.