Target said Thursday that about 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been affected by a data breach that occurred just as the holiday shopping season shifted into high gear.
The chain said that accounts of customers who made purchases using their cards at its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have been 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 Minneapolis-based company said that 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 the matter and prevent future breaches. The company said it is putting all "appropriate resources" toward the issue.
Target advised customers to check their statements carefully. Those who suspect there has been unauthorized activity on their 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.
Target did not say exactly how the data breach occurred, but it said that it had since fixed the problem and that credit card holders can continue shopping at its stores.
News of the breach comes at the height of the holiday shopping season, and could unnerve shoppers worried about the safety of their personal data.
Target is just the latest retailer to be hit with a data breach problem. TJX Cos., which runs stores such as T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, had a breach beginning in July 2005 that exposed at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards to possible fraud. The breach was not detected until December 2006. In June 2009 TJX agreed to pay $9.75 million in a settlement with multiple states related to the massive data theft, but it said at the time that it firmly believed it did not violate any consumer protection or data security laws.
An even larger hack hit Sony in 2011. It had to rebuild trust among PlayStation Network gamers after hackers compromised personal information including credit card data on more than 100 million user accounts. Sony was criticized for slowness in alerting users to the breach.
"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," said Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel in a news release issued Thursday. "We regret any inconvenience this may cause."
Target has 1,797 U.S. stores and 124 in Canada.
The Associated Press