Massive Target Hack: What You Need to Know

Dennis Faas's picture

Target, a popular US discount retail outlet, has confirmed that cyber-thieves have stolen debit and credit card data from 40 million people who've shopped at the store since Thanksgiving. The store is still investigating whether it was the work of hackers or an inside job.

The information stolen covers 19 of the busiest shopping days of the year. One security expert noted that the potential haul of stolen data covers one in seven of all the credit cards in the United States. (Source:

Target learned of the attacks when credit card firms reported a dramatic increase in fraudulent transactions and looked back at the spending history of the affected cards.

Target is still in the dark about many aspects of the attack, including exactly how the attackers got hold of the data or what percentage of the cards used at Target were affected.

It's still unclear whether the data was taken from Target or from card processing facilities, or if hackers breached computer systems or somebody intentionally leaked data.

Debit And Credit Cards Affected

The company says the problem affects both debit and credit cards, including those issued by Target. The problem only affects people who made purchases in stores and not those who bought items through the Target website.

It appears the thieves have been able to access card numbers, expiry dates, and security codes. That means the thieves could clone cards and go on a spending spree.

The good news (if you can call it that): the thieves won't have people's addresses, meaning they'll be limited in what they can buy online.

Some Target shoppers have already reported their cards being used for fraudulent purchases. If you've shopped at Target in the past few months, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on credit and debit card statements and report any transactions you don't recognize.

Be On Alert For Further Fraud

Banks may also be contacting customers to check up on suspicious purchases. Give the size of the breach, this may be an opportunity for scammers to pose as banks and call people at home.

For this reason, you should be wary about providing personal details if you receive such a call and instead phone the bank back using the number printed on your card or statement.

The Target breach is among the biggest ever of its type. A 2007 breach of retailer TJ Maxx involved 90 million cards being compromised, though those details were gathered over the course of a much longer time period (18 months). (Source:

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