As you've probably heard, Target recently made headlines for the serious technology breach that occurred for about two weeks following Thanksgiving 2013 and affected the financial wellness of many Target shoppers.

From Nov. 27 through Dec. 15, 2013, approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts could have been hacked, stealing money from unsuspecting shoppers.

In a statement, Target announced that it notified the authorities and financial institutions as soon as it was made aware of the situation in addition to teaming up with a third-party forensics firm to conduct a thorough investigation.

According to AARP, it was unclear how the cyber-attackers were able to access "point-of-sale" terminals at almost all of Target's 1,797 stores throughout the U.S. where they hacked into checkout line machines. These machines collect the magnetic strip's information on the back of a debit or credit card as well as a personal identification number. With this information, the attackers could potentially create fake cards by encoding data on any card with a magnetic strip, and if they accessed the PIN, they could, in theory, clone a debit card and use it to get cash out of an ATM.

"Target's first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause," Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Target, said in a statement. "We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice."

Learn from the Target situation
As of now, you would have received a notice if your account had been hacked from your chosen financial institution, but this situation with Target brings to light a more pressing matter: How do you keep your money safe in this technologically advanced age?

Nowadays, people rarely carry cash on them because everything is paid for with a credit or debit card. While this is often more convenient and can speed up the paying process, it also opens you up to potential problems like data breach and identity theft. In order to keep your money and identity safe, follow these helpful tips to stay protected:

  • Take advantage of financial alerts on your accounts that will notify you of a possible issue.
  • Additionally, take advantage of extra security offerings to add layers of protection.
  • Change your passwords frequently.
  • Check your credit report (you can get some for free online) every four months.
  • Also, check your credit card and bank statements every month to look for unauthorized charges. If you find any, report them immediately.
  • If you receive a notice that you've had a data breach, respond immediately and take action.
  • Avoid email alerts asking for personal information because it could be a hacker sending spam.