Huge credit card security breach

January 21, 2009 3:48:25 PM PST
It could be the largest credit card crime in history.Anyone with a credit or debit card could be a victim of this record-setting security breach.

Cyber-criminals may have stolen several months' worth of transactions. While the stolen information does not appear to include social security numbers or PINs, a lot of other personal information is now in the wrong hands.

If you use a credit or debit card, Heartland Payment Systems probably has your information.

Its computers process 100-million transactions every month, and Heartland announced today thieves hacked into those computers in late 2008.

Heartland says it discovered the hack last week after Visa and Mastercard notified the Princeton-based company of suspicious transactions stemming from accounts linked to its systems.

Investigators then found the data-stealing program planted by the thieves.

Heartland processes payments for 175,000 merchants, which include a wide variety of restaurants and retailers.

Heartland officials say discussions with the Secret Service and the Department of Justice indicate the incident is part of a widespread global cyber fraud operation. Authorities believe the perpetrators have pulled off this kind of security breach before.

"One of the key lessons here is the amount of information and the sensitivity of the information and the vulnerability of the information. All are beginning to increase as we become more dependent on electronic networks for financial transactions," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Rights Information Center.

Heartland says it plans to notify each victim whose data was stolen. It has also created a website to continuously update consumers about the incident.

CLICK HERE for that website.

In the meantime, it is very important you examine your monthly statements closely and report any suspicious activity immediately to the bank that issued your card.

Heartland says it has implemented a new security program. It's designed to flag network anomalies in real-time.