When Credit Cards Are Compromised

Millions of credit and debit card users should be worried about more than their holiday bills. They should be checking for errors or fraudulent charges.The Early Show financial advisor Ray Martin explains how to get any unauthorized charges taken off your card.

Now is the time to be checking your credit card bills because those bills arriving in the mail show your purchasing transactions over the busy holiday shopping season. The more charges you make, the greater the chance there will be incorrect charges and fees on your account. This year, there is another reason for some shoppers to check their credit and debit card statements.

Retailer TJX Cos., which owns and operates more than 2500 big discount stores, such as T.J Maxx, Marshals, A.J. Wright and Home Goods, reported two weeks ago that due to an "unauthorized intrusion" into it's computer systems, the credit and debit card numbers and card expiration dates of their customers had been compromised, and in some cases, stolen from their computer systems. According to the company, a smaller number of customer's names, addresses and drivers license numbers were also stolen – the most likely being customers who provided this information while returning merchandise without a receipt.

According to the company, the card numbers and related transaction information did not include customer addresses and names, and the main risk posed to customers is the risk of possible fraudulent charges on the compromised accounts. Other than the instances where drivers license numbers, names and addresses were stolen, the company says that it's extremely unlikely to be exposed to the risk of ID Theft on the customers breached credit and debit card accounts.

Protecting Customers – or Holiday Sales?

TJX Companies Inc states on their web site that they discovered the "unauthorized intrusion in mid-December 2006" and they believe it began in May 2006 with customer data compromised from then until December 2006. Their first move was to hire computer security experts General Dynamics Corporation and International Business Machines Corporation, and then they notified law enforcement authorities. According to the company, it delayed it's public announcement of the breach until mid-January out of a concern to reduce the risk of more customer data being exposed. They also state they maintained confidentiality of the intrusion as requested by law enforcement. It's probably an unfortunate coincidence that they made the announcement after the holiday shopping season – when asked if this factored into their decision, Sherry Lang, VP of Investor Public Relations replied, "It would be a pleasure to categorically deny that. We waited because it was in the best interest of our customers."

Don't Call Us – And We Won't Call You

According to company sources, most of the customer data compromised and stolen did not include customer names and addresses and affected shoppers who used their credit and debit cards to buy stuff at T.J. Maxx, Marshals, Home Goods and A.J. Wright Stores in the U.S and Puerto Rico after May 2006. Since they believe this involved account numbers and expiration dates, TJ Maxx has notified the banks and credit card companies who sponsor the cards. Their recommendation it that customers who may be concerned about their accounts should review their account statements and notify their bank or credit card company if they detect fraudulent charges or transactions.