Personal finance

Russian group releases stolen credit cards on dark web. Here’s how to protect your credit from criminals

It might be time, again, to protect your credit.

An estimated 1 million U.S. and global credit cards were released by a Russian criminal organization on the so-called dark web, according to analysts at cybersecurity firm Q6. The group, which calls itself “All World Cards,” offers stolen credit card information to other criminals.

Although there’s a slim chance that the release of the stolen information involves a credit card you own, it’s worth knowing there are ways to protect your credit from fraudsters at any time. (Otherwise, if you discover a fraudulent charge on your credit card, call the issuer to rectify the situation.)

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The first option is to freeze your credit report, which generally blocks outside access to your file. This means a scammer can’t use your personal information to get a loan or establish credit, because the potential lender can’t check your report to approve the application. 

However, if you need to apply for new credit, you’d need to temporarily lift the freeze. Otherwise, it lasts until you remove it, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Also, you must alert the credit-reporting firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the biggest — to freeze your report at each of them.

You also can use a short-term fraud alert, which lasts one year. These alerts are different from freezes: Under a fraud alert, a lender seeking to approve an application must first contact you to verify the request is not from an imposter.

You only need to contact one credit reporting firm to initiate a fraud alert, which in turn is legally obligated to share your notice with others. It also is free.

(CNBC Senior Washington Correspondent Eamon Javers contributed to this report.)

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