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Fury and frustration over Target data breach

NEW YORK (AP) -- Potential victims of credit card fraud tied to Target's security breach said they had trouble contacting the discounter through its website and call centers.

Angry Target customers expressed their displeasure in comments on the company's Facebook page. Some even threatened to stop shopping at the store. Target apologized on Facebook and said it's working hard to resolve the problem and is adding more workers to field calls and help solve website issues.

The fury and frustration come as the nation's second-largest discounter acknowledged Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The theft is the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. That incident affected at least 45.7 million card users.

Target disclosed the theft a day after reports that the company was investigating a breach. The retailer's data-security troubles and its ensuing public relations nightmare threaten to drive off holiday shoppers during the company's busiest time of year.

Christopher Browning, of Chesterfield, Va., said he was the victim of credit card fraud earlier this week and believes it was tied to a purchase he made at Target with his Visa card on Black Friday. When he called Visa on Thursday, the card issuer could not confirm his suspicions. He said he hasn't been able to get through to Target's call center.

On Monday, Browning received a call from his bank's anti-fraud unit saying there were two attempts to use his credit card in California - one at a casino in Tracey, Calif., for $8,000 and the other at a casino in Pacheco, for $3,000. Both occurred on Sunday and both were denied. He canceled his credit card and plans to use cash.

"I won't shop at Target again until the people behind this theft are caught or the reasons for the breach are identified and fixed," he said.

Customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data included customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip found on the backs of cards, Target said.

There was no indication the three- or four-digit security numbers visible on the back of the card were affected, Target said.

The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

Target hasn't disclosed exactly how the breach occurred but said it has fixed the problem.

Given the millions of dollars that company's such as Target spend implementing credit-card security measures each year, Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner Research said she believes the theft may have been an inside job.

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

Other experts theorize that Target's network was hacked and infiltrated from the outside.

Whatever the case, Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronics Transaction Association, which represents the payments technology industry, said data breaches like Target's are generally "heavily organized and sophisticated."

Annual losses from global credit and debit card fraud are on the rise. Last year, it reached $11.27 billion, up 11.4 percent from the previous year, according to The Nilson Report, which tracks global payments. Even so, Nilson's publisher David Robertson pointed out that fraud still accounts for less than 6 cents of every $100 spent.

Target, which has almost 1,800 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada, said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach on Dec. 15. The company is teaming with a third-party forensics firm to investigate and prevent future problems.

The credit card breach poses a serious problem and threatens to scare away shoppers who worry about the safety of their personal data.

Target's stock dropped more than 2 percent, or $1.40, to $62.15 on Thursday.

"This is close to the worst time to have it happen," said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a principal at Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis public relations firm. "If I am a Target customer, I think I would be much more likely to go to a competitor over the next few days, rather than risk the potential to have my information be compromised."

Target advised customers Thursday to check their statements carefully. Those who see suspicious charges should report them 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.

"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," Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said Thursday in a statement.

Brianna Byrnes of Kansas City, Mo., a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a call center worker, said she made a Target purchase during the affected period. The situation made her "a little bit" nervous, but she still plans to shop for toys at the store, she said.

"I've never had anyone steal my identity. I guess it's taking a risk."

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

During an earnings call in November, the company said some 20 percent of store customers as of October have the Target-branded cards. In fact, 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. "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."

TJX Cos., which runs stores such as T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, had a breach that began in July 2005 and exposed at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards to possible fraud. The breach was not detected until December 2006.

Without anyone noticing, one or more intruders installed code on the discount retailer's systems to methodically collect and transmit account data from millions of cards.

In 2009, TJX agreed to pay $9.75 million in a settlement with multiple states.

Litan doubts the breach will have much effect on Target's sales, noting that TJX launched sales promotions immediately following the news of its breach. The effort increased sales.

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


Associated Press writers Michelle Chapman in New York and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.



Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
richyalf December 20 2013 at 10:01 AM

We just signed up for one of their cards last month but never received it. We charged an item an got the bill in the mail but never got the card . As a result, we got the bill in the mail but cannot pay as we still have no card. It is futile to try and reach one of their people over the phone as the messages disconnect after a minute. Cannot reach them on their web site either so we went to their store. We were told that they could not reach anyone in their corporate office to help me but they did give us another telephone number.We called this number and got a busy signal which disconnected. We again tried this number but could not reach a live person so we indicated we ha a lost credit card using the last four digits we had, we then received the reply that a new card would be mailed to us and hung up. We are now afraid that someone is using the card we never received and have no way of checking until we receive the next mailing bill. All we want to do is cancel the card!.

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1 reply
Pierre richyalf December 20 2013 at 10:13 AM

You don't need your card to pay the bill. The card number is on the bill. If you don't pay you will end up with a late charge and interest.

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aropdop70 December 20 2013 at 1:17 PM

UNREAL !!!!!!-Can anyone get through or have they taken ALL phones off the hook ????

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ddstan1120 December 20 2013 at 1:17 PM

The crooks are apparently smarter than the people that set up these credit programs, (see Obamacare), so we may have to go back to the old tried and true method, which is pay cash as you go. Worked for centuries and centuries.

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1 reply
slanted mofo ddstan1120 December 20 2013 at 1:26 PM

Crooks have been known to steal from people using the "tried and true method" too. It's called "mugging." Don't try to act so smart.

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Dave December 20 2013 at 9:51 AM

Ask the NSA who did it and send one of Obamas drones with a hellfire missile to ruin their Christmas!

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1 reply
krug1284 Dave December 20 2013 at 10:16 AM

Be serious. We don't use Drone missiles in the US.

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puppybabie December 20 2013 at 1:23 PM

Right after Thanksgiving there was a mention on the news of a major US retailer had a security break.
Then nothing again, until the lst couple of days. WHY? We could have been told immediately,
could it be they wanted people to shop during the ensuing weeks?

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Patrizia December 20 2013 at 9:50 AM

Lauralubniewski, it is any card you used.. your bank card or a target card

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abstracter December 20 2013 at 9:50 AM

there is always societal pressure to use credit cards I am 55 and never owned one and never will. If I cannot buy with cash I do without. It is a control mechanism and now aholes with a computer around the world can destroy one financially en mass without breaking a sweat. NO THANKS credit cards are not financial freedom.

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kristinajp December 20 2013 at 1:34 PM

You want to express your anger, express at the spineless A$$HOLES who hurt so many people with this hacking crap. I hope there is a God just so that there may be a hell and they burn in it. You go around hurting innocent people and making their lives more stressful, especially in these times, you are the very people who think you are so smart, well if you were you would realize the possibility that there just may be a God and you may be in some serious eternal S H I T !!!!! Keep hiding behind those computers because you can't possibly have any decent real relationships in your life, if you did you wouldn't have time for this...

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1 reply
don54321 kristinajp December 20 2013 at 1:39 PM

Low lives that do this hacking for a living are probably meth addicts, heroin addicts and the likes. Just scum of the earth and there are plenty of them out there that resort to the life of crime to feed their habits.

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Jim Seinkner December 20 2013 at 1:34 PM


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bbmontague December 20 2013 at 1:35 PM

Unfortunately, during the time that the breach occurred, I signed up for a Target "Redcard" which is tied directly into my checking account.
Shouldn't the store's staff have informed me at the time that there had been a breach? If I had known at the time, I would have NEVER applied for the card.
I also shopped at Target several times during this period. Target should have been more responsible and should have shown its customers the respect they deserve by being upfront and disclosing from the beginning that there were issues. Its customers would have appreciated it and might have shown even more loyalty by simply paying in cash until an announcement was made that the issue was resolved.
Yet again, respect for the customer, their needs and their loyalty to a brand are dismissed for the desire to continue to make a profit.
Target, I expected more from you and I am sure that I speak for others as well.

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