Credit card customers surprised by extreme rate hikes

WASHINGTON. - Headlines about a massive, international credit card theft case are leading to new questions about how safe our credit really is.

Experts say spending a little time to check your accounts now can save you a lot of hassle later.

The super hacker accused of stealing 130 million credit card numbers smashed his own and last year's record of 40 million.  

If you're a victim, banks promise you're not going to lose a cent.

"Bottom line, as a general matter, whether it's a credit card or a debit card, consumers are not liable for unauthorized transactions -- including transactions that are the result of hacking," says Nessa Feddis of the American Bankers Association.

Debit card holders may not get their money back right away and clearing a credit record takes some time and effort.

Experts say the best defense is a good offense and recommend checking your accounts regularly and reporting anything unusual. You can also forget about those credit monitoring and protection services.

"It's better to watch your accounts and to look at your statements than pay $10 or $15 per month for a relatively useless product," says Ed Mierzwinski of US Public Interest Research Group.

Security experts say you need to remain vigilant because many companies aren't doing everything they can to protect your information from hackers.

"Even this kind of attack, which is fairly common and well known , is very preventable," says John Abell of Wired.com.

The number one credit safety tip is to never respond to unsolicited calls or e-mails asking for your personal information.

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