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Expert Available to Discuss Massive Data Breach at Target Stores

Released: 12/19/2013 2:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Indiana University
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Available for logged-in reporters only

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Some 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been compromised in one of the largest consumer data breaches in recent memory, and Indiana University cybersecurity expert Fred H. Cate is warning consumers to be extra vigilant as holiday shopping ramps up in the final weekend before Christmas.

Target reported today (Dec. 19) that customers using gift, debit or credit cards between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their account information stolen.

"While we are still learning details about the breach," Cate said, "it provides an important and timely reminder about the practical steps that individuals can and should take to protect themselves.

Cate said the good news is that Congress long ago limited what consumers could be charged when their accounts are used fraudulently to $50, and banks universally waive even that charge. But the protection applies only if consumers spot fraudulent charges and report them promptly.

"In addition, we know that early detection of fraud reduces the amounts stolen and makes it much easier for consumers to recover and move on, so anyone who has used a credit or debit card at Target since Thanksgiving should check their accounts for suspicious activity," said Cate, a Distinguished Professor at the Maurer School of Law and the director of the university’s Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research.

“This is the busiest shopping time of the year," he added. "Sneaking in smaller purchases here and there on a stolen credit card becomes easier to do when they’re surrounded by other charges."

Cate urged consumers to notify their credit card companies if they see any suspicious transactions show up on their statements. "If you used a debit card," he said, "you should change your PIN immediately."

From a broader perspective, the massive breach of information could trigger shopper anxiety and points to a need for businesses to take cybersecurity seriously.

"We all depend on an infrastructure that is not nearly as secure as consumers believe it is, or as it should be," Cate said.

Target has urged consumers who may be affected to report suspicious activity to a corporate hotline at 866-852-8680. Additional information on practical steps that consumers can take to protect themselves and their data is available at www.securitymatters.iu.edu.

Cate is available to comment on the Target breach as well as other topics relating to information security, cybersecurity, consumer protection, and privacy. He can be reached at fcate@indiana.edu or at 812-855-1161.

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