Oops is not a word you want to hear from the nation's sixth largest credit card processor.
But Heartland Payment Systems this week disclosed that hackers may have pulled off the nation's largest credit card numbers ripoff, from plastic that we swiped in restaurants and elsewhere. Heartland has set up a special Web site at www.2008breach.com if you suspect you have a problem.
As authorities continue to sort out what's at risk, there are a few things we can do to protect our own wallets.
Check your credit history at the Big 3 credit reporting services, of course. Equifax, TransUnion and Experian each offer one free report each year. You can even go onto a joint Web site, www.annualcreditreport.com, for a report from each of them. If you want to check more often, ask for a free report from just one of the companies now and the others in four and eight months later. Repeat that rotation a year from now to continue keeping an eye on things.
You also can take further steps, for free, if you suspect that your identity has been compromised, say the editors at Consumer Reports.
Asking for a credit freeze is one of the most effective. It will stop anyone from opening a new credit line without your knowledge. You also can ask the three services to alert you if it appears someone is trying to fraudulently borrow in your name.
Here's where things get tricky. Credit companies, including the Big 3 reporting services, also will do these things for you and more. But they also may charge you anywhere from several dozen to a few hundred dollars for the service.
So read the details, compare the costs and think through which services you really need or not. Ask, for example, if you really need pricey i.d. theft protection if a free credit freeze will do the trick. And be careful out there.