Answers to questions about the Target data breach

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Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 12:00 am

NEW YORK (AP) – 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 from Nov. 27 to 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 you 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 consumer.gov/idtheft, or by calling the FTC at 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).

Nebraskans can file a complaint online at ago.ne.gov, or by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800- 727-6432, state Attorney General Jon Bruning said.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said his Consumer Protection Division has posted identity theft information at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.

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.

As stated before, credit card companies don't hold consumers liable for charges they don't make. Usually the worst thing consumers have to deal with is the hassle of getting a new credit card.

And the paper trail generated through credit card transactions can often make it easier do things such as return items you've purchased, or keep track of work-related expenses.

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It's worth noting that while debit cards offer many of the same perks as credit cards, without the worry that you'll spend more than what's in your bank account, they often don't come with the same kind fraud protections.

As a result, those card holders may have a tougher time getting their money back if their number is stolen.

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.

Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner Research, says given all the security, she believes the breach may have been an inside job.

Litan says Target's breach suggests that current security standards aren't working.

"It's really a wake-up call to the banking industry, but they never seem to wake up," she said.

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: Why is the Secret Service investigating?

A: While it's most famous for protecting the president, the Secret Service also is responsible for protecting the nation's financial infrastructure and payment systems. As a result, it has broad jurisdiction over a wide variety of financial crimes. It isn't uncommon for the agency to investigate major thefts involving credit card information.

Target's statement on the security breach

The Target security breach reported Thursday unleashed a torrent of response from authorities, including those in Iowa and Nebraska.

“Data breaches may leave Nebraskans vulnerable to identity theft,” said a statement from Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. “Nebraskans who believe their information may have been compromised should review their bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity. As always, report any unauthorized charges to your card issuers immediately, notify credit bureaus in writing and file a report with law enforcement.”

Nebraskans can file a complaint online at ago.ne.gov, or by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800- 727-6432, state Attorney General Jon Bruning said.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller also issued a statement.

“We don't yet know who stole this data or what they plan to do with it,” Miller said. “For now, consumers can best protect themselves by closely watching their financial statements.”

Miller said his Consumer Protection Division has posted identity theft information at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.

Most credit card issuers allow cardholders to check their accounts online, according to a statement released Thursday by the Better Business Bureau serving Nebraska, South Dakota, the Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa.

Some authorities, the BBB said, recommend that consumers switch to electronic delivery of credit card statements, especially if the family mailbox can't be locked.

Another important step is checking credit reports at least once a year.

“Pulling your credit report on a regular basis is a smart way for consumers to stay on top of their financial health,” said Jim Hegarty, BBB chapter president. “The reports can help you determine whether anyone has stolen your identity or tried to commit fraud.”

Hegarty said to be wary of offers of free credit reports; in some cases, he said, the offers themselves are scams designed to perpetrate identity theft. – Russell Hubbard

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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