Here's what you should do about the Target data breach (or any time your credit info is stolen)

First, don't panic. Then, use these tools to make sure your data is safe.

By now, you've probably already heard that Target was recently hacked and 40 million customers' names and credit card data were stolen. Whether you're worried about this specific incident or just want a game plan for any similar one (there will be others), here's what to do.

1. Find out what happened and if it affects you. For the Target breach, it was only in-store shoppers who may have been affected--and those who shopped between November 27th (Black Friday) through December 15th. With the credit card and debit card numbers, expiration dates, and CVV security codes, as well as names, identity thieves can have a field day.

2. Check your statements. You'll want to carefully comb each statement going forward for unwanted charges, then dispute any you find.

3. Check your credit reports. This is a good thing to check regularly anyway, and you can get a free report from each credit bureau for free each year at

4. Sign up for credit monitoring. Get notifications of important changes to your credit, such as new inquiries, at Credit Karma. BillGuard is another financial service/app that can warn you if there's a suspicious looking charge on your statement.

5. If you're using debit cards for purchases, switch to credit. If a thief is able to make charges on your debit card, your whole bank account can be immediately drained, leaving you with no cash at all until it's all sorted out (and even then, your liability may vary by bank). With credit cards, you can dispute charges and are not obligated to pay them, thanks to special protection from the FTC.

Updated to add: Gizmodo has a few more good suggestions for times like these, including putting a fraud alert on your credit reports and creating an identity theft report at the FTC.

It's disturbing and scary when millions of people's financial data is stolen. Keep these tips in mind to stay sane if it happens to you. [h/t Lifehacker]

Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon