Target Breach More Widespread Than Originally Thought

Jan 10, 2014
Originally published on January 14, 2014 4:13 pm

Update 3 p.m.: Target now believes that up to 110 million customers may have had their personal information stolen.

Target has increased its estimate of the number of customers affected by its recent security breach to 70 million.

The retailer originally stated that 40 million shoppers were affected by the theft which came during the holiday season.

Bloomberg News editor Winnie O’Kelley speaks with Here & Now’s Robin Young about the breach.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

In Congress today, the House passed legislation that would require people be notified of security breaches on the government's health care website. It's a bill that's not expected to go anywhere, but lawmakers felt they had new ammunition. They cited Target. Today, Target announced that previous estimates of their holiday season credit card security breach were way too low. In fact, they now believe that up to 110,000 million Americans may have had their personal information stolen, and more kinds of information than originally thought.

Winnie O'Kelley is the financial crimes editor for Bloomberg. And, Winnie, this is information stolen between November 27th and December 15th. We know about credit cards, but what new kind of information taken off Target saying has also been stolen?

WINNIE O'KELLEY, BYLINE: Names, addresses and Web addresses compromised. So with all that information, there's probably some overlap. But the total number will probably rise. This could well be the biggest data breach ever at a retail company.

YOUNG: Well, it says a couple of things. First of all, it says Target has a lot of customers.


O'KELLEY: It sure does.

YOUNG: But also that it had this flaw. So first of all, what are people supposed to do? If you shopped at Target, what should you anticipate if somebody has your name, your phone number?

O'KELLEY: Well, there's a variety of things. The banks were pretty aggressive early on, even when Target was downplaying the possibilities. I know I personally got a letter from my credit card company because I had shopped at Target saying, beware. We know this has happened. You want to monitor what's going on in your account very closely. Look for erroneous charges. Don't be complacent.

In some cases, the amount that you could purchase on your card was limited, especially, I think, with debit cards and some other situations that may have varied from bank to bank. The bigger issue now, I think, going forward is if all of your information is available, can people really steal your identity? Name, address and other information, will that start to crop up as the problem?

YOUNG: Yeah.

O'KELLEY: We're yet to see that.

YOUNG: Well, Target did say that customers will have zero liability for the cost of any fraudulent charges. We are hearing from a listener. For instance, she says her card was used at Best Buy to buy two items over $700. So they're saying zero liability. And they also offered a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. So people should pay attention to that. But what will happen to the company in general? Is this going to be enough to gain consumer or Wall Street confidence?

O'KELLEY: You know, this is a really interesting moment. You know, the fourth quarter is when retailers bring in so much of their business, the important holiday season. This came out just at the end of December. Target now says that traffic was down in its stores. So much so that it's going to have an impact on their final earnings for the year.

They were expecting it to be kind of flat for those final months. And now they say there's actually going to be a decline in how much money they brought in. So Target was doing pretty well. It was doing better than Wal-Mart. This is an obstacle for them. They were perceived as being a little bit weaker in technology and other areas. And I think this is going to tarnish them going forward.

YOUNG: Well, shoppers, beware. And then keep an eye out on your statements as they come in. But meanwhile, Winnie, quick question. The court just ruled on another business story about privacy. A Virginia court ruled that Yelp, that's the online review service, has to reveal the identities of seven anonymous reviewers who posted negative reviews. This is going to be a sea change in that industry.

O'KELLEY: Yes, it is. I think up until now that we've all known or suspected that many of the reviews that were out there maybe were fake, put up people who maybe didn't buy the product or used the service. And now, they're basically saying buyer - you know, liar beware. Not buyer beware.


O'KELLEY: Because of you're lying, you're not protected by First Amendment rights.

YOUNG: Terrific. Winnie O'Kelley, Bloomberg News financial crimes editor. Thanks so much.

O'KELLEY: Thank you.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.