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Latest credit card data breach puts focus on precautions

Hacking » More than 1.5 million could have been affected as Visa drops processing firm.

First Published Apr 02 2012 01:09 pm • Last Updated Apr 02 2012 07:58 pm

Merchants and consumers could be big losers in the latest case of hackers cracking the complex systems used to process credit and debit card transactions. But there are steps potential victims can take.

Visa and MasterCard have acknowledged that they’ve been alerting banks about a major breach at Global Payments, an Atlanta-based payment card processing firm.

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Global Payments said Monday it had discovered the breach in March and reported it to industry officials and the FBI. As many as 1.5 million MasterCard and Visa cards in North America may have been affected. Both Visa and MasterCard say their own systems weren’t compromised.

Global Payments said that credit card data may have been stolen, but that cardholder names, addresses and Social Security numbers were not obtained. The company said it will set up a website to help consumers.

Visa has dropped the card processor from its registry of providers that meet data security standards.

This latest episode involving credit-card data serves as an important reminder for cardholders to take precautions in order to protect their personal information. In the past year, there have been high-profile data attacks against the International Monetary Fund, Citigroup, National Public Radio, Google and Sony’s PlayStation Network.

Being part of a breach makes an individual six times more likely to be the victim of fraud or identity theft, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

Here’s what to do if you suspect your data has been breached:

Be extra cautious » Watching for signs of possible trouble is important. When hackers glean consumer information through attacks they can use it to mine more data online about those individuals. That makes it easier to send targeted emails that mimic messages from a consumer’s bank — a process known as "spear phishing."

Review statements closely »Look for unexpected charges. Even a $1 charge could be a sign that a thief has your account number and is testing to see if you notice anything unexpected. If you spot any unauthorized purchases, a call to the credit card company will start an investigation, and the questionable purchases will be reversed under most circumstances.


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If you don’t receive your statement on time, that may be a red flag that something isn’t right. One popular tactic with thieves is changing the billing address on existing accounts to delay their detection.

Update software and browsers » Protect yourself from online fraud and identity theft with updated browser security software on your computers and mobile devices. If you already have anti-virus software, make sure to update it.

Monitor your credit report » The three national credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are required by law to provide consumers with one free credit report each year, upon request. The reports can be obtained at www.annualcreditreport.com or by mail.

If you believe there may be a problem, considering asking them to put a fraud alert and possibly a security freeze on your credit information.



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