Target hack: What you need to know

PORTLAND, Ore. -- We put together some basic question-and-answers to help you understand how the Target data breach affects you.

If you shopped at Target between Black Friday and Dec.15, criminals likely stole your credit or debit card numbers in the batch of 40 million accounts stolen.

What did the criminals actually steal?

Target says the hackers stole credit and debit card numbers, three-digit security codes, expiration dates and the name on the account.

How can hackers use this information?

Hackers can clone your card and use it to make purchases like the real one, until the fraud is detected and the card is canceled.

Can hackers steal my identity?

No. Credit bureaus say the hackers did not access enough information to steal your identity. Target says the criminals did not steal Social Security Numbers. That means there is not enough data for them to open new credit cards or take out loans in your name, for example.

Equifax, one of the major credit agencies, also points out this fraud will only be apparent on credit or bank statements. Your credit report may show balance changes, but it would not detect any other fraud associated with this breach. Credit bureaus also say adding a fraud alert to your account will also not help.

Should I cancel my credit or debit card if I shopped at Target during this time?

It's up to you. We ran this question by Danielle Payne, a personal banker at Wells Fargo in Portland. Payne happened to use her debit card at Target during the period when hackers stole information. She did not replace her debit card. Payne says it is a personal decision. However, if you detect fraud on the account, yes, you should contact your bank immediately to replace it.

Target emailed me. Is it real?

Maybe. Target emailed shoppers after the breach. However, criminals are also sending fake emails pretending to be from Target. You need to be a detective by carefully inspecting emails and 'from' addresses.

Target emailed me, but I never gave the company my email address. Is it real?

This is not clear. Target told us it emailed shoppers by accessing their email addresses from its own databases, like email lists or online accounts. Target would not answer us when we asked repeatedly if it also dug up email addresses from outside sources. We will continue to press for answers.

A credit bureau or bank emailed me. Is it real?

Again, maybe. Credit bureaus send alert emails to customers who signed up for monitoring. But criminals are also constantly sending fake emails trying to trick people into giving out personal information. Call your bank, credit agency or financial institution if you have any doubts about an email.

Information about Target's data breach:

Target phone number to call if you suspect your cards have been compromised : 866-852-8680.

Target's press release

Target's statement to its customers

Check Your credit, Get Your Free Credit Report:

Or Call: (877) 322-8228

Nationwide credit reporting agencies:

(800) 525-6285
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

(888) 397-3742
P.O. Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013

(800) 680-7289
Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834-6790