Avoid getting your credit and debit card information swiped by hackers

PALM DESERT, Calif. - Neiman Marcus has been hit by data crooks. The upscale retailer announced over the weekend that its data base of credit card customers was hacked.

The breach occurred in mid-December about the same time Target was hacked.

It's too soon to know if the two are related. Neiman Marcus officials say they are notifying customers who may be affected.

People affected likely won't be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions, but debit card users could face bigger headaches than credit card users. The two are treated differently by consumer protection laws.

Under federal law, fraudulent charges on a credit card can't exceed $50. If it's your debit card, you could be responsible for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.

Credit and cash are best. Be vigilant.

"Continually check everything, your bank statements, you credit card statements, credit reports, anything," said Charles Bennett, security and public safety consultant of the Monee Group.

Deanne Hernandez loves shopping at Target. She's well aware of the store's recent data hack and feels for the more than 70 million people whose credit and debit card information got stolen.

"It is scary. I have a friend who's having to check her AmEx. Cybercrime is all over the place," she said.

Be proactive. Don't wait for something to happen for you to take action.

"Divide it up. Carry a little bit of cash and no more than two cards," said Bennett. "If you're going to use one of your debit cards, make sure it doesn't have a lot of money in it. So if there is fraudulent use, they don't get away with a lot of money."

Target said the thieves didn't steal Social Security numbers and shoppers should be wary of calls or e-mail scams offering protection. Usually they're scams trying to get personal information from you.

Contact your bank right away about any suspicious charges.

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