Video: Protecting your credit
updated 6/20/2005 5:26:48 PM ET 2005-06-20T21:26:48

The announcement last week of the biggest incident yet in which account information was stolen from a credit card processing company has consumers on high alert for identity theft. 

In that incident, John Perry, chief executive of CardSystems Solutions Inc., admitted that 200,000 records were stolen by hackers and millions of consumers' information was left exposed.

With that in mind, MSNBC's Natalie Allen talked on Monday with Mari McQueen, senior editor of Consumer Reports, about what consumers can do to protect themselves.

McQueen said that the most important consumers need to do to protect themselves is to pay attention to detail. Specifically, monitoring their accounts and their credit reports on a yearly basis.

"The main thing is that consumers should be checking their monthly statements very very carefully for any unauthorized charges," she said. "We would also advice consumers to get their annual credit reports as soon as possible so that they can review that also for any unauthorized accounts or any activity that they weren't aware of."

In addition, McQueen advised that consumers take more care when completing financial transactions online.

"If you're doing any financial transactions online like Americans do these days, you should also be very careful about having the appropriate firewalls on your computer and also any kind of encryption software that you might want to install so that your information can not be easily read or intercepted as its moving around the Internet," McQueen said.

In cases where consumers suspect fraud, McQueen said getting in touch with one's financial institution is the first and most important step.

"The first thing to do is call customer service line on your credit card and make them aware that you have some concerns you've seen on your credit card like unauthorized transactions," she said. "Notify your bank, notify any other financial institutions.  If you ever notice anything amiss, that's the first thing to do.  To let them know right away then you'd want to close any account that was compromised."

McQueen noted that consumers who are vigilant are usually protected fully in case of fraud.

"By federal law, you would only be responsible for the first $50 but practices like MasterCard, Visa and any other credit card issuer are saying you will not have any liability for unauthorized charges," she said.

To watch the complete interview between Mari McQueen and MSNBC's Natalie Allen, please click on the video link above.

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