A massive data breach at Target stores across the United States is being investigated by the Secret Service.
On Thursday Attorney General George Jepsen and state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein warned Connecticut consumers to take necessary precautions to protect themselves.
Target officials said that around 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been affected between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.
The Minneapolis-based corporation said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach, and that it would team up with a third party forensics firm to investigate.
"We are only beginning to understand the implications of this massive, nationwide data breach and the impact it will have on Connecticut consumers," Jepsen said in a statement. "I have sent a letter to Target requesting information on this breach, and we will be working to ensure that consumers receive all the protections to which they are entitled in the wake of this breach. In the meantime, consumers should take immediate steps to ensure their personal accounts are secure and report any suspicious or unauthorized activity immediately."
Jepsen said it could be the "second largest security breach involving private information of individuals in history."
"When a breach occurs we inquire about how it happened and how Connecticut consumers have been affected and what steps are being taken to remedy the situation," Jepsen said.
Millions of people walked through the doors at the more than 1,700 Target stores across the country during the Black Friday shopping weekend, and those who paid in stores with credit or debit cards are the ones at risk.
Officials said 40,000 machines that customers used to swipe their cards may have been hit by hackers. The hackers are looking to lift the information off the magnetic strip on the back of the cards.
That information can be used to create counterfeit cards.
Target officials said any customers who made purchases at its United States stores during the impacted time and suspect unauthorized activity should call them at 1-866-852-8680.
Jepsen and Rubenstein said consumers should also keep a close eye on bank statements in the coming months.
"If you can check your debit card transactions and credit card transactions online, go ahead and do so today," Rubenstein said. "If you can change your pin numbers for your cards, do so now. With so much shopping and spending going on this time of year, consumers should be extra vigilant. Keep all receipts, check them, and scrutinize your credit statements and bank statements when they arrive during December and January."
Target data breach victims also need to make sure their credit history has not been damaged as a result of thieves using their credit cards.
"It's just the day we live in. Nothing is fool proof anymore," said customer Ken Kraut. "There's people always smarter than the smartest person."
The following are consumer tips in the wake of the Target data breach:
Consumers can get a free copy of their credit report by contacting Annual Credit Report, or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Place an initial fraud alert on their credit report, which then lasts for 90 days.
Victims should contact the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-438-4338) and talk to a counselor. The counselor will ask questions to gather information about your complaint. Be sure to ask the counselor to email you a link so you can print out the complaint.
Victims should file a police report and be sure to get a copy.
Start a file to store in a safe place and include the following:
Your ID Theft Affidavit and police report
Emails or letters that you send or get
A record of calls you make or get
Quinnipiac University information security officer Brian Kelly said anyone who is a victim or was shopping at Target during the time of the breach should cancel their debit or credit card that they used in the store, and immediately apply for a new one.
"When you talk about 40 million credit cards, you're talking about a database," Kelly said. "So it's not a point of sale ... they're infiltrating the swipe devices, cashier."
Kelly said these attacks for your personal information are becoming more common.
"There's a market so that if the perpetrator isn't going to use the data themselves they can resell it and like an eBay sell it to the highest," Kelly said.
As of Thursdy night, Target still does not know who's behind the breach and how it happened. Eyewitness News has learned the company has hired an outside firm to come up with suggestions on how to prevent it from happening again.
For more information from Target about the breach, click here.
To read the letter that Jepsen sent to Target on Thursday, click here.
Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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