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Target says about 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been affected by a data breach that began just as the holiday shopping season shifted into high gear. Consumers are urged to keep close watch on their statements.

Target reveals more bad news

Stolen credit cards now being sold on global black markets

The retailer is unsure how the breach happened and is investigating the incident. It is also adding employees to its call center to field consumer questions.

More bad news for shoppers who used their credit cards at Target in recent weeks: Many of the 40 million credit cards that the company says were part of a massive data breach are said to be for sale on black markets around the world.

That report comes from KrebsOnSecurity, the website run by cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs, who initially broke the story about the Target breach.

On Friday, Krebs posted another story detailing how he had tracked down phony cards made using information that was stolen as part of the Target data breach:

“Credit and debit card accounts stolen in a recent data breach at retail giant Target have been flooding underground black markets in recent weeks, selling in batches of one million cards and going for anywhere from $20 to more than $100 a card, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.”

On Thursday, Target confirmed that someone had hacked into its systems and had stolen 40 million debit and credit cards from stores across the country. The breach apparently lasted from Black Friday to Dec. 15.

As expected, the thieves are using that information obtained from those credit cards to make phony copies that are being sold on the black market around the world, Krebs found.

Potential victims of credit card fraud tied to Target’s security breach said they had trouble contacting the discounter through its website and call centers.

Angry Target customers expressed their displeasure in comments on the company’s Facebook page. Some even threatened to stop shopping at the store. Target apologized on Facebook and said it’s working hard to resolve the problem and is adding more workers to field calls and help solve website issues.

The theft is the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. That incident affected at least 45.7 million card users.

Target disclosed the theft a day after reports that the company was investigating a breach. The retailer’s data-security troubles and its ensuing public relations nightmare threaten to drive off holiday shoppers.

Christopher Browning of Chesterfield, Va., said he was the victim of credit card fraud this week and believes it was tied to a purchase he made at Target with his Visa card on Black Friday. When he called Visa on Thursday, the card issuer could not confirm his suspicions. He said he hasn’t been able to get through to Target’s call center.

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