Swiped: 5 lessons from the Target card breach

Swiped: 5 lessons from the Target card breach: The theft of 40 million credit and debit card records from Target (TGT) wasn’t the biggest or most damaging data breach ever, but coming right before Christmas, it sure did get our attention-and maybe that’s good.

Perhaps American consumers needed a slap in the face to focus on the growing problem of financial data theft. Keep in mind: Target was just one of about 600 publicly disclosed data breaches in 2013.

“Any retailer can be hit,” said Al Pascual, a senior analyst for security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy and Research. “People need to protect themselves because sooner or later they’re going to be affected, regardless of where they shop.”

It’s important to understand how debit and credit cards differ when it comes to fraud protection, and what to do if your card information is stolen. Quite frankly, some of the advice given to Target victims was questionable or wrong. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Credit cards offer better fraud protection

The most important difference is that credit cards provide better fraud protection than do debit cards.

“If a fraudster steals your credit card number and uses it, they’re stealing the bank’s money, not your money,” said John Ulzheimer with CreditSesame.com. “If a fraudster steals your debit card number and uses it, they’re stealing your money and you’ll have to argue with the bank to get your money back.”

Federal law limits responsibility for unauthorized credit card charges to $50. Visa (NYSE:V), MasterCard (MA), Discover (DFS) and American Express (AXP) have “zero liability” policies, so you’ll never lose a penny to credit card fraud.