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Frank Gray

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Credit breach disturbs few

When I first read the news last week that hackers had stolen the credit and debit card information on 40 million Target customers, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The security breach meant that hackers had gotten all the information they needed to wreak havoc with one in six adults in the United States.

Lucky for me, I was one of the five in six that didn’t get his identity stolen. That’s because I don’t shop at Target. Nothing against Target. It’s a nice place, but I really don’t shop anywhere except the grocery, and I try not to use credit cards.

That doesn’t make me immune, though. A couple of years ago, I had a new credit card and had used it only once. It wasn’t long before we were notified that someone was using it to buy shoes online. We quickly closed the account, wondering how someone could have possibly gotten their hands on the account number. We concluded that someone at the only place where we had used it had copied the account number and security codes on it and gone shopping online.

Then, just this week, I got a letter in the mail. We have an account at a big retailer, and an employee there had improperly accessed the account, the letter said. I was being offered a free subscription to a credit monitoring service.

I called a toll-free number in the letter, and they immediately asked for my Social Security number.

Are you crazy? I thought. I’m not giving that out. The account had a zero balance anyway, so I let the matter drop. But it made me wonder. Is anything really safe any more?

In the last few years, there has been one huge theft of data after another. One company had the data on 45 million customers stolen in 2007. In 2008, a company that handled billing for one large credit card company had 100 million account numbers stolen. Last year, another company had the information on another 100 million customers stolen.

So in that respect, the Target theft was relatively small.

More and more, though, I’m coming to believe that nothing is secure. But there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of panic. In another week or two, people will quit talking about the most recent credit breach and life will go on. We won’t hear much about how many millions or billions of dollars in fraudulent purchases have been made using that stolen data, just like we didn’t hear about the million or so fraudulent tax returns that were filed using stolen Social Security numbers in the several years until victims started complaining.

It makes me wonder just what kind of a volcano we’re sitting on.

It sort of reminds me of the foreclosure crisis we went through in the mid-2000s. For two or three years, we wrote about the flood of foreclosures. At the time, I wondered out loud why the banks weren’t panicking, but no one seemed concerned – until the sky fell and the floor collapsed.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe everything is under control. Maybe that’s why I hear no gnashing of teeth.

Or maybe we’ve got our heads buried in the sand, just like we did in 2006 and 2007.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.