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Target: 40 million card accounts may be breached

December 20, 2013
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO , THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Target is grappling with a data security nightmare that threatens to drive off holiday shoppers during the company's busiest time of year.

The nation's second largest discounter said Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The data theft marks the second largest credit card breach in the U.S. after retailer TJX Cos. announced in 2007 that at least 45.7 million credit and debit card users were exposed to credit card fraud.

Target's acknowledgement came a day after news reports surfaced that the discounter was investigating a breach.

The chain said customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.

The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

Fact Box

Answers to questions about the Target data breach

By BREE FOWLER

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - With less than a week until Christmas, a real-life Grinch has stolen the credit and debit card information of about 40 million Target shoppers.

Target says anyone who made purchases by swiping cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.

The stolen information included Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.

The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

Here are some answers to the most common questions about the theft:

Q: I shopped at Target during that time. What should I do?

A: Check your credit card statements carefully. If you see suspicious charges, report the activity to your credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. You can report cases of identity theft to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

You can get more information about identity theft on the FTC's website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by calling the FTC, at (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338).

Q: How did the breach occur?

A: Target isn't saying how it happened. Industry experts note that companies such as Target spend millions of dollars each year on credit card security, making a theft of this magnitude particularly alarming.

James Lyne, global head of security research for the computer security firm Sophos, says something clearly went wrong with Target's security measures.

"Forty million cards stolen really shows a substantial security failure," he says. "This shouldn't have happened."

Q: Who pays if there are fraudulent charges on my account?

A: The good news is in most cases consumers aren't on the hook for fraudulent charges.

Credit card companies are often able to flag the charges before they go through and shutdown your card. If that doesn't happen, the card issuer will generally strip charges you claim are fraudulent off your card immediately.

And since the fraud has been tied to Target, it'll be the retailer that ultimately compensates the banks and credit card companies.

Q: How can I protect myself?

A: Like they say, cash is king. You can only lose what you're carrying, though admittedly many people may not feel safe walking around with a wad of bills in their pocket.

The stolen information included Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.

The Minneapolis company, which has 1,797 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada, said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach on Dec. 15. The company is teaming with a third-party forensics firm to investigate and prevent future breaches.

The breach is the latest in a series of technology crises for Target. The company faced tough criticism in late 2011 after it drummed up hype around its offerings from Italian designer Missoni only to see its website crash. The site was down most of the day the designer's collection launched. The company angered customers further with numerous online delays for products and even order cancellations.

But the credit card breach poses an even more serious problem for Target and threatens to scare away shoppers who worry about the safety of their personal data.

"A data breach is of itself a huge reputational issue," said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a principal at Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis public relations firm. He noted that Target needs to send the message that it's rectifying the problem and working with customers to answer questions. He believes Target should have acknowledged the problem on Wednesday rather than waiting until early Thursday.

"This is close to the worst time to have it happen," Robinson-Leon said. "If I am a Target customer, I think I would be much more likely to go to a competitor over the next few days, rather than risk the potential to have my information be compromised."

Target advised customers on Thursday to check their statements carefully. Those who see suspicious charges on the cards should report it to their credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. Cases of identity theft can also be reported to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

"Target's first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause," Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement Thursday.

Many displeased Target customers left angry comments on the company's Facebook page. Some threatened to stop shopping at the store. Many customers complained they couldn't get through to the call center and couldn't get on Target's branded credit card website. Target apologized on its Facebook page and said it is "working hard" to resolve the issue and is adding more workers to field the calls and help solve website issues.

Christopher Browning, 23 of Chesterfield, Va., said was the victim of credit card fraud earlier this week and he believes it was tied to a purchase he made at Target with his Visa card on Black Friday. However, he called Visa Thursday and the card issuer couldn't confirm. He says he hasn't been able to get through Target's call center.

On Monday, Browning received a call from his bank's anti-fraud unit saying that there were two attempts to use his credit card in California - one at a casino in Tracey, Calif. for $8,000 and the other at a casino in Pacheco, for $3,000. Both occurred on Sunday and both were denied. He canceled his credit card and plans to use cash. Although Browning has no proof, he says he believes the fraud was tied to his Black Friday purchase at Target.

"I won't shop at Target again until the people behind this theft are caught or the reasons for the breach are identified and fixed," said Browning.

Brianna Byrnes, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a call center worker, said she made a Target purchase during the affected period.

 
 

 

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