Target Data BreachSlowly more information is unfolding about the Target data breach that is now being recognized by security experts as the second largest theft of card accounts in U.S. history. And now Target announced Friday that the thieves not only gathered nearly 40 million victims’ names and credit or debit card numbers, but also obtained encrypted PIN numbers for each of the debit cards.

The retail giant said it believes that the PINs were not revealed to the thieves because they were strongly encrypted, and can only be decrypted by an external independent payment processor. Yet, since Target is in the early stages of its investigation, there is a possibility that the encrypted PINs could have been revealed to the thieves. The Minneapolis-based company said it’s working with the Department of Justice and Secret Service during the investigation.

What should I do if I fell victim to the Target data breach?

If you shopped in a Target store between Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, then there is a high chance that your information may have been stolen in the data breach because more than 1,800 U.S. stores were targeted in the theft. Luckily, there is one crucial step you can take to make sure your personal information remains safe.

The vital step you should take is call your bank and request a new debit or credit card with a new number. It’s essential that you complete this step regardless of whether or not you find fraudulent activity on your credit or debit card statement because millions of the stolen data has already been sold to identity thieves on the Internet black market. This means that even though your finances have not been affected yet, there is a high chance that you will feel the effects of the breach later. By cancelling your credit or debit card, you’re ensuring that your financial information will not be compromised.

How can I make sure my identity stays safe?

There is no way to guarantee the safety of your identity, however there are actions that you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. The first thing you should do is check your credit and debit card statements regularly and carefully. Make sure that you completed all of the transactions and call your bank immediately if you find any possible fraudulent transactions.

On top of checking your bank card statements, you should also shred any documents or junk mail containing personal information. This is an action that most people don’t realize is essential to protecting themselves from theft. Identity thieves have a reputation of digging through garbage bins to try and gather any personal information that they can. Once they’ve gathered any information, they try to piece together the person’s identity using certain online tools — such as people search websites and social media — to successfully acquire more information until they have enough to steal their victim’s identity.

The final step that you should take to make sure your identity stays safe is to monitor your credit reports. Even though you can access one credit report per year for free from AnnualCreditReport.com, once per year isn’t always enough to catch the theft before it wreaks havoc on you credit. That’s why it’s wise to consider signing up for a credit report monitoring service. These services actively monitor your credit and provide real-time alerts anytime a change is made to your credit reports so you can catch the possible theft immediately.

If you want to take protecting your identity a step further, then you may want to sign up for an identity theft protection service. These services not only complete most of the actions detailed above, but also take additional steps to verify the safety of your identity — such as monitoring your personal and banking information on the Internet black market to make sure it’s not being sold or traded to identity thieves. Most of these services come with some sort of free trial that allows you to test the service before making a financial commitment and cost less than $20 per month. See which service will best fit your needs and budget by visiting our identity theft protection reviews.

If you feel that the Target data breach caused you to fall victim to identity theft, then you should follow this step-by-step guide to restore your identity as well as your good name and credit.