The Target financial security breach has left up to 40 million customers wondering if they may become the victims of credit card fraud and identity theft.
On Thursday, December 19 Target Corp. reported to the public that it had undergone a financial data security failure of vast proportions. As reported in the Denver Business Journal, Janet Sanders, CEO of Incom Direct, a Denver-based financial transaction services provider for merchants, commented on the incident by saying,
This is the worst data breach I’ve ever seen. I’m advising anyone who made a transaction at Target between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 to cancel their cards. “Just How Bad Is This Target Data Security Breach?”
According to the statement, some 40 million credit and debit card numbers used by shoppers at Target stores in the United States between late November and mid December may have been stolen. In an article detailing a Secret Service investigation of the incident, The Wall Street Journal reported that the breach is thought to have affected approximately 40,000 credit card-reading devices located at store registers across the country. According to investigators,
The thieves gained access to data that is stored on the magnetic stripe on the back of the credit and debit cards…. The stripe contains data that is valuable for making counterfeit cards, such as account numbers and expiration dates.” “Target Hit by Credit-Card Breach: Customers’ Info May Have Been Stolen Over Black Friday Weekend.”
Spokespeople for both Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the two largest metro Denver-area banks, issued statements regarding the breach, reassuring consumers of their zero-tolerance policies toward unauthorized activity on their cards. However, they also urged banking customers to be vigilant in monitoring their own accounts. Wells Fargo spokesman Kristopher Dahl said,
If customers suspect that their card or card number may have been used without their authorization — or if they are notified by Target that their information has been compromised — they should contact [the bank] immediately.
But, Incom Direct’s Sanders recommended that Target customers take even stronger action. Recognizing that it may take between 30 and 90 days to assess the full extent of the breach, Sanders remarked,
Zero liability isn’t what I’m concerned about. It’s the identity theft. I’d err on the side of caution and cancel your card. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of financial cure.
While the simplest and most effective solution is to follow Sanders’s advice and cancel compromised cards, the loss of credit and debit card numbers highlights some of the broader potential threats posed by identity thieves. For useful information on the proper steps to take if you believe your credit card number has been stolen, and on how to protect yourself from identity theft, please visit the consumer protection pages of the Federal Trade Commission’s website by clicking here.
Further information for Colorado residents is also available in the consumer section of the state’s Attorney General’s office website, available here.