MasterCard Reports Major Security Breach

In what is likely to be the largest computer-information breach yet reported, MasterCard says a computer hacker gained access to 40 million credit-card accounts. Many other credit card companies were affected. What should customers do?

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It's likely to be the largest credit card security breach to date. Yesterday, MasterCard announced that a computer hacker had gotten access to more than 40 million accounts, and not just its own but Visa, American Express and Discover, too. The FBI says it's investigating. MasterCard says some of those accounts have already been used for fraud, but it's not clear how many. This isn't the first violation of credit card security in recent months and it has consumers wondering what they should do now. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

Your first question is probably the same as mine: How do you know if your account is one of that 40 million? There's one sure way to find out. Call the bank that issued you your credit card and ask them to tell you. That's because some banks won't necessarily tell you. Sharon Gamsin is a spokeswoman for MasterCard International. MasterCard first announced the security breach yesterday.

Ms. SHARON GAMSIN (Spokeswoman, MasterCard International): Some issuers will take those numbers and monitor them closely for any unusual activity. Others might choose to notify members, their cardholders. Others might choose to replace the cards, I mean, but that is the individual issuer's choice.

LEWIS: Next question: What can you do to make sure you're not asked to pay for that flat-screen TV that shows up on your credit card? The good news is federal law shields you from being held liable for more than $50 in unauthorized charges, and most banks wave that fee to keep their customers happy, but you have to be a watchdog. Look carefully at your credit card statement and call them immediately when you find a fraudulent charge. Chris Hoofnagle is a watchdog himself for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Mr. CHRIS HOOFNAGLE (Electronic Privacy Information Center): If you wait too long and pay your bill and allow this unauthorized charge to go stale, that could be a problem. So, you know, if you have a credit card, you should inspect your statements very carefully in the upcoming months.

LEWIS: The bad guys can't use your credit card number to steal your identity, but they can use it to buy stuff off the Web or to print bogus credit cards. So unless and until the federal government decides to require more security, do it yourself. A new federal law is being phased in. It will allow you to get free credit reports once a year. Get a pencil and write this Web address down: www.annualcreditreport.com.

Mr. HOOFNAGLE: And the cool thing about it is that you don't have to order all three at one time. So you can mark on your calender that in January, you going to pull one from TransUnion, and in May, you're going to pull another from Experion and then in September or October, you're going to go back and pull your final one from Equifax.

LEWIS: In the meantime, Card Systems Solutions, the Atlanta-based credit card processor that was storing the data, said it was keeping it for research purposes, it thought legally. Now it's doing everything it can to help the FBI find out who did this.

Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

LUDDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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