Make us your home page
Instagram

Target customers hit by data theft

Target says about 40 million credit and debit card accounts may be affected by a data breach that occurred just as the holiday shopping season shifted into high gear.

The retail chain said customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and 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 data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

The stolen information included Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.

"Target's first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause," chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement Thursday.

The Minneapolis company said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach and that it is teaming with a third-party forensics firm to investigate and prevent future breaches. The company said it is putting all "appropriate resources" toward the issue.

Target Corp. advised customers to check their statements carefully. Those who see suspicious charges on the cards should report it to their credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. Cases of identity theft can also be reported to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

Even if Target shoppers haven't noticed suspicious activity on their credit card accounts, a Target spokeswoman said, "We encourage everyone to be vigilant."

Several Tampa Bay shoppers said they were alarmed by the breach but not enough to stop going to the store.

"You're never totally safe,'' said Dennis Collins, 56, of St. Petersburg, outside the Target store at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 81st Avenue N. "I follow everything that I buy, and I'll notice if there's an issue and report it as a fraud."

Summer Sides, a 30-year-old Target shopper from Tampa, said the news was particularly disturbing because she had just been notified by Citibank about fraudulent activity on her card. She didn't know if it was related to Target.

"It's kind of scary, but I still like using my card,'' she said.

An employee at the Target store along Gandy Boulevard near Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa said the store had received a lot of phone calls about the breach but hadn't heard of anyone who had unauthorized charges at the store.

Anne Healy, 45, who was shopping at the St. Petersburg Target, chalked it up to "the age we live in.''

Target hasn't disclosed exactly how the data breach occurred but said that it has fixed the problem and that credit card holders can continue shopping at its stores.

The company has 1,797 U.S. stores and 124 in Canada.

"The fact this breach can happen with all of their security in place is really alarming," said Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner Research.

Litan noted that companies like Target spend millions of dollars each year on credit card security measures. Given the company's heavy security, Litan said she believes the theft may have been an inside job.

Target's breach comes at the height of the holiday shopping season and threatens to scare away shoppers worried about the safety of their personal data. The November and December period accounts for 20 percent, on average, of total retail industry sales.

The incident is particularly troublesome for Target because it has used its branded credit and debit cards as a marketing tool to lure shoppers with a 5 percent discount.

The company said during its earnings call in November that as of October some 20 percent of store customers have the Target branded cards. This holiday season, Target added other incentives to use its cards. Two days before Thanksgiving, Target.com ran a special review sale with 25 exclusive offers, from electronics to housewares for those who used the branded card.

As a result of these incentives, households that activate a Target-branded card have increased their spending at the store by about 50 percent on average, the company said.

"This is how Target is getting more customers in the stores," said Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist of Belus Capital Advisors. "It's telling people to use the card. It's been a big win. If they lose that trust, that person goes to Wal-Mart."

Greg Melich, an analyst at ISI International Strategy & Investment Group, wrote in a note published Thursday that Target's most important goal should be to maintain "customer trust and therefore longer-term loyalty."

Litan said she doubts the breach will have much of an effect on Target's sales.

"People care more about discounts than security," Litan said.

Times staff writers Claire Wiseman and Susan Thurston contributed to this report.

Biggest data hauls

Target is just one of many major retailers hit by data thieves in recent years. Here are some of the biggest nationwide breaches:

• In July, federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges in an ongoing investigation of thieves who have allegedly stolen more than 160 million credit and debit card numbers, as well as login information, from companies including J.C. Penney, 7-Eleven, Nasdaq and JetBlue.

• In 2012, Atlanta-based credit card processor Global Payments Inc. disclosed that thieves were believed to have stolen data from up to 1.5 million credit and debit card accounts.

• In 2011, Sony disclosed that hackers breached their system, exposing credit card data and other personal information on more than 100 million user accounts within its PlayStation Network.

• Also in 2011, a data breach at third-party marketer Epsilon Data Management exposed email information from potentially more than 40 companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Best Buy, Target, Walgreen and TiVo. Episilon was sending more than 40 billion emails a year at the time. Analysts said more than 60 million emails may have been affected.

• In 2008, about 4.2-million Visa, MasterCard and Discover credit and debit card numbers — 1.6-million of them used at Sweetbay Supermarkets in Florida — were exposed to hackers who tapped into the computer network at Hannaford Brothers grocery chain in Portland, Maine. At the time, Sweetbay was a sister company of Hannaford.

Times wires and Times research contributed

to this report.

Target customers hit by data theft 12/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 11:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Proino Breakfast Club owner charged with not paying state taxes

    Crime

    LARGO — Just before noon on a recent Sunday at Proino Breakfast Club, the dining room was bustling as owner George Soulellis chatted with a customer.

    Proino Breakfast Club at 201 West Bay Drive in Largo. The owner was arrested last month on a theft of state funds charge, according to court records. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  2. Former Sen. Greg Evers, advocate for law enforcement, dead at 62.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Former State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Florida strawberry farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash hear his home in Okaloosa County. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the death late Tuesday, but deferred any further information pending an investigation. He was 62.

    Former Florida Senator Greg Evers, R- Milton, was a passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers. He was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a car crash. He was 62. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Foundation Partners buys Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, the Tampa Bay area's largest family-owned funeral company, has been sold.

    Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, the Tampa Bay area's largest family-owned funeral company, has been sold.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  4. Water Street Tampa unveils video showing downtown's transformation

    Business

    TAMPA — Water Street Tampa, the sweeping, 50-plus acre redevelopment project in Tampa's urban core, has unveiled new images and video of what the downtown district will look like upon completion.

    Strategic Property Partners released a conceptual image of what the Tampa skyline will look like once its redevelopment of 50-plus acres of downtown will look like. [Photo courtesy of  of SPP]
  5. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]