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Answers to questions about the Target data breach


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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.

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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.

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 much is this going to cost Target?

A » It’s too soon to tell. In addition to the fraud-related losses, banks may start charging Target a higher merchant discount rate, which is the amount retailers pay banks for providing debit and credit card services. While the percentage difference may be tiny, it could result in steep costs given the volume of transactions Target does, Litan says.

Litan added that the company could also face class action lawsuits from consumers, though most of them will be meritless, and fines from federal agencies. When combined, the costs of the breach could be so steep that they actually prompt Target to raise prices, she says.

"The real winner in this is Wal-Mart," she says.

Q » Can the bad guys be caught?


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A » Stasiak says that given the sophistication of this attack, there’s only about a 5 percent chance that the perpetrators will eventually be caught and prosecuted.

He notes that in cases like this, it’s hard to determine where the attack originated and given the large mass of information involved it’s not going to be found housed on someone’s home computer.

Q » How can future breaches be prevented?

A » Litan says an easy way to prevent fraud would be to eliminate the use of easily cloned magnetic strip cards and upgrade to the kind of microchip technology used in most other parts of the world.

But she says banks have pushed back against the idea, because the microchip cards cost significantly more than the magnetic strip version and changing over all the country’s ATMs could drive the total costs into the billions of dollars.

Lyne says it’s unclear if the use of microchip cards would have prevented the Target breach, since it’s unclear how it happened, but that it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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