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Target’s payment card nightmare gets worse


"Attention 70 million Target shoppers: the people who stole your credit and debit card information also have your mailing address, email account and phone number."

That was the news coming from Minneapolis this morning as the nation’s second largest discounter revealed yet more disturbing details surrounding the theft of customer payment card information during the critical holiday shopping season. 

Previously, Target (TGT) had claimed that “only” 40 million customers had been impacted and the exposure was limited to card information. Today with one sentence Target almost doubled the number of customers whose data were violated, and expanded the degree of that violation considerably.

In the attached clip retail crime expert Hitha Prabhakar says the crooks are way ahead of Target and other retailers when it comes to keeping your information safe. Consumed with driving sales merchants have antiquated systems in place when it comes to security. “They’re not thinking and really investing in security,” says Prabhakar who has a book on organized retail crime called Black Market Billions.  “What ends up happening is that these 18-year olds trump (retailers) in terms of knowledge and take 70 million people’s information and do terrible things with it.”

According to most recent census data there are 320 million Americans, 240 million of which are over 18.  If Target’s estimate of 70 million different customers is accurate, then 21.8% of the U.S. population has had their names, addresses, phone numbers and email accounts fall into the hands of the criminal masterminds who managed to tap into Target’s customer database. 

Even with the assumption that many customers used different cards at Target, meaning some individuals were victimized more than once, 70 million is a staggering number.

Target’s website says the company will offer free credit monitoring services for up to one year but there’s no way to sign up for the service yet. The company’s website and toll-free number say additional information will be provided next week.

Target says it has contacted more than 17 million customers regarding the payment card breach via email. Of course now that its apparent the thieves have access to customer email accounts, it’s probably not a good idea to click any links or even open emails claiming to be from Target. The company says it has copies of all official emails available on its website,though that link just leads to the generic crisis front page.

As of moments ago, calling the telephone number provided on the back of a Target debit card (888-729-7331) directs callers to check the company website for recent transactions and offers assurances that there is no need to speak to representatives.

There is no apparent way to cancel your card online, but the automated call center does give callers the opportunity to sign up for a new card if they wish.

The guess here is most customers will pass on that the option to get a new Target card in the immediate future. Perhaps not surprisingly, Target also warned that 4th quarter earnings estimates would come in short of previous expectations.

Unfortunately, Prabhakar says the problem isn’t limited to Target. Maybe companies with an online or mobile focus have a slight edge, but almost all companies still doing the bulk of their business through physical stores could be next. “These slow moving retailers like Target and Walmart are all pretty vulnerable right now.”

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