System break-in nets info on 5.6 million credit cards

A computer hacker, or hackers, has gained access to the credit card numbers of as many as five million credit card customers.

As a result, information was stolen from more than 2.2 million MasterCard International Inc. accounts and approximately 3.4 million Visa USA Inc. cardholder accounts, according to those companies.

American Express cardholder account information was also accessed, according to Christine Elliott, a corporate spokeswoman for American Express.

Elliott declined to comment on how many American Express accounts were affected.

The theft occurred when the system of a company that processes credit card transactions for merchants was broken into, according to statement released by Visa U.S.A.

Systems operated by Visa and MasterCard were not compromised, and both companies said they have contacted all the financial institutions affected by the theft.

No information was available about which banks were affected by the theft, but a Visa spokesman said that none of the stolen Visa account information has been used fraudulently.

MasterCard is continuing to investigate whether the account information has been used to make purchases, according to Sharon Gamsin, vice president of global communications at MasterCard.

Neither Visa nor MasterCard would identify the company that was hacked, nor would they provide information on how the theft occurred, citing security concerns.

MasterCard became aware of the security breach during the week of Feb. 3, Gamsin said.

Visa and MasterCard, like other credit card companies, use third party companies to manage credit card transactions between merchants and the financial institutions that issue the credit cards.

Those companies transfer money to a merchant's account and manage any transaction fees, according to a Visa spokesman.

Because a single vendor handles transactions from a number of different companies, however, it is likely that the thefts were not limited to Visa and MasterCard accounts, according to Gamsin.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Cybercrime division is also investigating the theft, according to Cybercrime division spokesman Bill Murray.

The decision about whether to cancel a credit card account or merely flag it for possible fraud is up to the financial institutions that issued the card, according to Gamsin.

Citizens Bank NA was notified of the crime by MasterCard on Friday and immediately cancelled the affected credit cards to protect its customers, according to Barbara Cottam, director of corporate communications at Citizens Bank, which is part of Citizens Financial Group Inc. of Providence, Rhode Island.

Although Cottam would not say how many Citizens Bank customers were affected, she said that published reports putting the number at 8,800 were accurate.

Citizens Bank called those customers and issued new credit cards to them, according to Cottam.

"The cards are in the mail," Cottam said.

Cottam said she did not know of any fraudulent transactions affecting Citizens Bank customers that were linked to the theft.

In contrast, Elliott said that American Express would not cancel credit cards attached to compromised accounts, but that it had implemented a process to detect fraudulent activity on the affected cards.

Elliott would not provide details on that process, but said the company will notify specific card members if fraudulent activity is detected and action needs to be taken.

As of Tuesday, American Express was not aware of any fraudulent activity connected to the compromised accounts, Elliott said.

Both Visa and MasterCard offer zero-liability policies, which absolve cardholders of responsibility for unauthorized purchases.

Cardholders who discover that their account has been used fraudulently should contact the financial institution that issued the card, Gamsin said.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Roberts

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2018

With determination and drive, you achieve outstanding performance! Get Bitdefender Total Security 2018 Now!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?