Debit Card PIN Numbers Stolen

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

March 14, 2006

The Personal Identification Numbers of 100,000s of debit card users may have been stolen nationwide, putting you the consumer at risk.

Some analysts are calling it "the worst hack ever." It's a security breach so big it effected thousands of bank customers all over the country. A Charlottesville analyst said hundreds of dollars were stolen from his friend's account.

"They had to worry about how much of their card was used by other people, and whether or not they were going to get their money back," said Sang Hwang, of SNL Financial.

According to Visa, hackers broke into the database of a major retailer and stole the PIN numbers. Visa immediately notified major banks and new debit cards were sent out. Unfortunately, not before the thieves used many of the cards overseas.

Card companies blame the thefts on a Wal-Mart or Office-Max security breach but both stores deny it. Regardless of who is responsible, analysts said this breach could sway the public's opinion of debit cards.

"I think we're just coming to grips with a kind of damage that it can do to your pockets as a result of a different medium of exchange," said Hwang.

Nowadays it seems people are swiping rather than handing over some cash. Just a few months ago Visa debit cards were used more often than Visa credit cards for the first time. But analysts said this popular trend comes with risks.

"Anyone can break into that [database] and they have access to your personal wealth and that's something that I think, as consumers, we should be worried about," said Hwang.

Visa said their customers shouldn't worry, if their PIN number is stolen they will not be held liable. The FBI is searching for the hackers; meanwhile analysts say more card holders will be affected. Banks are urging debit card users to monitor their statements carefully and notify them as soon as you see anything suspicious.

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