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'Massive' credit card data breach reported

Cards with the MasterCard, Visa and Discover brands have reportedly been compromised.

By Giselle Smith Mar 30, 2012 4:18PM

More than 10 million credit card accounts may have been compromised by a security breach at a U.S.-based credit card processor earlier this year, a respected website says.

Visa and MasterCard are notifying card issuers across the country about the situation, Krebs on Security reported today, saying that enough data was taken in the "massive" breach that it could be used to create new, counterfeit cards.(Post continues below.)

Reuters reported that Discover is "monitoring accounts for suspicious activity" because of the breach.


The Wall Street Journal identified the credit card processor as Atlanta-based Global Payments, a company that processes credit and debit transactions for banks and merchants.

Image: Credit card (© Mike Kemp/Getty Images/Getty Images)The card processor was reportedly compromised between Jan. 21 and Feb. 25, and the breach is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service in addition to an independent data security organization.

Visa, MasterCard and Discover issued statements assuring customers that their own systems have not been compromised. They do not issue credit cards themselves, but instead process payments for banks, credit unions and other card issuers.

Who's at risk?

It is unclear exactly how many accounts may have been affected -- the WSJ put the number at 50,000 -- though Krebs offered one example:

On Wednesday, PSCU -- a provider of online financial services to credit unions -- said it alerted 482 credit unions that appear to have had cards impacted by the breach, and that a total of 56,455 member Visa and MasterCard accounts were compromised. PSCU said fraudulent activity had been detected on a relatively small number of those cards -- 876 accounts -- and that the activity was geographically dispersed.
Following up on the story, Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan blogged that she had heard from people in the credit card industry who were "seeing signs of this breach mushroom" and that hackers are already using the stolen information.

What should you do?

In an interview with Forbes, Brian Krebs, who runs Krebs on Security, said that although cardholders are not responsible for fraudulent purchases, "people should always keep an eye on their statements," and should report suspicious transactions.

Some other tips, from Visa Security Sense:

  • Make sure your online passwords are strong.
  • Keep your computer software and virus protection up-to-date.
  • Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank so you are aware of all purchases.
  • Review any receipt before you sign it, and keep your copies.
  • Report a missing card immediately.
  • Cancel any inactive accounts.
  • Shred sensitive documents rather than just throwing them away.
  • Monitor all of your accounts frequently.

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