Target said today that it was investigating a large-scale security breach involving stolen credit and debit card information for 40 million of its retail customers nationwide.

The massive theft of payment card data from Target Corp. stores has renewed warnings that consumers are better protected from fraud by using credit cards instead of debit.

The advice was issued against a backdrop of banks and card companies rushing to assure their customers they would not have to pay for fraud resulting from the Target data breach.

"Customers have zero liability for fraudulent activity," Capitol One said in an emailed statement to the Times. 

But the banks and consumer groups advised holiday shoppers who made purchases on plastic at Target to immediately check their accounts for fraud.

"Don't wait for the statement to arrive in the mail," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. "Check online right away, and check frequently thereafter."

Givens' groups recommends against the use of debit cards because thieves who obtain the card information can drain consumers' entire checking accounts. It has posted an online guide to explain its position.

"It may take several weeks for the account to be reimbursed," Givens said, adding the law governing fraud for debit cards is weaker than the law governing fraud on credit cards.

"Although it's an extreme tip, if you used a debit card at Target since Black Friday, consider canceling it and only obtain a credit card as a replacement," Givens said.

The banks and credit card companies asked consumers who suspect fraud to contact them and said they have sophisticated systems to detect and deal with fraud.

“If we identify and confirm fraud, we will close the account and reopen it with a new account number,” Capitol One said.

Consumers are protected against unauthorized purchases on their debit cards “when those purchases are reported promptly,” said Steve O'Halloran, spokesman for JPMorgan Chase & Co.

American Express said: "Given that this is the holiday season and people are traveling, it’s always a good practice for us to have cardmembers’ mobile numbers.

“This way, if we do see anything that we suspect as fraudulent, we can be in touch with the cardmember as soon as possible, via mobile call or text.”

 

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