I had been planning to call my active credit card companies to
determine whether any had been compromised. This article caused me to
start the process this morning, calling American Express, my most
After thanking me for carrying their card for 21 years, they refused
to tell me whether any of my three cards was among those
compromised. They tried to tell me that they have all sorts of
"anti-fraud" procedures. Even so, it was Master Card and not American
Express that first uncovered the problem, and there is no way I can
reliably double check an account that has dozens of charges a month,
many of them posted in the name of parent companies located at head
offices in other cities, so that many of the charges are not easily
verified and must usually be taken on faith.
Accordingly, I told them to cancel all three cards and send me new
ones. They were not happy, but were unwilling to tell me whether the
cards had been compromised. Perhaps if they have the expense of
replacing many customers credit cards, some necessarily and many
unnnecessarily, they will start taking security and customer service
When I get the new American Express cards I will call the second most
active card in my wallet, and so on down the list.
Cardholders Kept in Dark After Breach
Some Banks Decline to Tell Customers Whether Accounts Were Compromised
By Mike Musgrove
Consumer advocates said credit card customers have been denied crucial
information in the wake of a recent data breach, as some major banks
are declining to tell cardholders whether their account may have been
accessed by hackers.
In a security lapse disclosed by MasterCard International Inc. last
week, 40 million credit card and debit card numbers were exposed to an
intruder who gained access sometime last year through a
credit-processing firm. An interagency group of federal banking
regulators has begun an investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, Internet security firm Secure Computing Corp. warned
yesterday that a fresh appearance of an old e-mail scam appears to
come from opportunistic fraudsters hoping to use fear about the recent
data theft as a way to trick MasterCard customers into giving up their
Companies such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., American Express
Co. and MBNA Corp. said that they are not automatically alerting their
customers that their information may have been exposed but that they
are more closely monitoring the accounts that may have been
affected. The policy was reported yesterday on CNetNews.com.
Such credit-card-issuing banks said MasterCard and Visa have shared
with them lists of account numbers that may have been
compromised. Though such accounts may earn heightened scrutiny from
the banks that issued them, customers may never know whether their
account numbers were among those stolen by hackers.
"Those accounts have been flagged, and we're watching them even more
closely than we otherwise would," said Jim Donahue, spokesman at
MBNA. "If we start to see an unusual rate of fraud [among the set of
compromised accounts], we would consider notifying those customers
impacted -- but we haven't seen that yet."
MasterCard said yesterday that it is up to banks that issue credit
cards to determine whether to contact cardholders.
Consumer watchdog groups decried such policies as bad for consumers.
"That sounds really bad to us," said Chanelle Hardy, legislative
counsel at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer
Reports magazine. "Any time that any unauthorized person gets access
to sensitive or personal information, [the cardholder] should be
notified," she said. "For a consumer, it's the first line of
defense. It's almost their only line of defense."
The breach reported last week occurred at a processing center in
Tucson operated by CardSystems Solutions Inc. and may have been the
largest such theft. CardSystems did not return a call for comment
The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council has issued
guidelines for when a bank should disclose to its customers that
account information may have been stolen.
Michael L. Jackson, chairman of the FFIEC's information technology
subcommittee, said yesterday that it was too early in the
investigation to recommend one course or another.
There has not yet been any fraudulent activity associated with the
stolen credit card numbers, said Sharon Gamsin, vice president of
communications at MasterCard. If bogus charges do show up, customers
often are not held responsible but can spend years clearing their
credit ratings if someone steals their identity.
Within 24 hours of last week's news of the breach, a new version of an
Internet scam was circulating on the Web. In an e-mail forged to look
as if it had come from MasterCard, recipients were urged to log in to
a counterfeited MasterCard site and enter their account information.
That Web site had apparently been taken down yesterday afternoon. It
was registered in the name of Tucson resident Donald Cuppe, whose wife
said in an interview yesterday that the couple knew nothing about the
site but had received a call from their bank on Monday alerting them
that their Visa debit card number was stolen.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Brian Krebs contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 The Washington Post Company
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