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California is by far the most populated state (the runner-up, Texas, is about 10 million people short of California’s 38 million). As such, there are probably more drivers in California than anywhere else in the U.S.

So it’s a pretty big deal that the California Department of Motor Vehicles may have suffered a credit card data breach. Cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs reported the potential breach March 22, saying online transactions with the California DMV were the common link among a slew of banks that received alerts last week about compromised credit cards.

At this point, it’s unclear how many cards were affected, but the alert from MasterCard (which did not name the California DMV as the breached entity) put the range of compromised transactions from Aug. 2, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014. Stolen data included card numbers, expiration dates and security codes.

The DMV issued a statement saying it was investigating a potential breach of its credit card processor. The statement said there was no evidence the department’s computer system was hacked, but it’s all being investigated.

Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911, said this is another reminder that consumers need to be on their toes. If the breach is limited to the credit card information and includes no personal identifying information (like Social Security numbers or birth dates), impacted individuals don’t have too much to worry about.

“It’s not dangerous, it’s just annoying. It’s going to require you to change your credit card number yet again,” Levin said, alluding to the various credit card breaches that have occurred during the past few months, most notably of Target’s payment processing system.

If you haven’t yet memorized the action plan for dealing with a data breach, here’s a primer: Check your credit and debit card transactions on a daily basis, and if you find any transactions you don’t recognize, immediately get to the bottom of it. Once you’ve confirmed you didn’t make the purchase, nor did any of your authorized cardholders, contact your card issuer.

Daily monitoring is a necessary proactive measure if you want to lessen the potential damage to your finances that can result from a data breach. You can also set up transactional monitoring with your bank, which allows you to receive notifications for every transaction made on your card or transactions made over a certain dollar amount.

Checking your credit score can also help you spot identity theft, because fraud isn’t limited to stolen credit card information. If you notice a huge unexpected drop in your credit score, that’s a sign you need to look into how your personal information has been used lately. (There are many resources — free and paid — for checking your credit scores. Credit.com offers a free tool that includes your credit scores, updated every 14 days.)

As for the credit card security debate: Levin noted that the often-touted chip and PIN technology wouldn’t have helped in this case, because the data was supposedly stolen from online transactions. In the end, it’s really up to you to protect yourself from the harm of data breaches.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: Brian Jackson

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