Your Credit Swiped

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Byline: Christopher Elliott

Can the feds protect your visa card?

Unless you work for a bank, you probably missed the news about the latest credit security breach. Last month, 1.5 million credit-card accounts were stolen from Global Payments, an Atlanta-based company that processes payments for Visa and MasterCard. Details of the break-in remain sketchy, but as of early last week the company confirmed the security breach, insisting that no cardholder names, addresses, or Social Security numbers had been compromised. (In response, Visa deleted Global Payments from its list of secure companies, and MasterCard warned customers about the security breakdown.)

But experts say that the break-in is a big deal and could nudge us closer to a federal breach-disclosure law. Avivah Litan, a security analyst for consulting firm Gartner, says Global Payments is one of the largest payment processors in the country and that the breach is just the latest in a string of credit-card-security failures that have plagued corporate America. "It's like the presidential assassin getting through security all the way to the Secret Service," she says. "It's serious."

For now, the incident appears small compared with megabreaches like the one that exposed more than 100 million credit-card accounts from Heartland Payment Systems in 2008. "But it brings into question the very security of the credit- and debit-card industry and whether or not it's safe to use such payment cards," says Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an organization that tracks data breaches. Federal law protects credit-card purchases, but Givens is worried about any debit cards that may have been exposed. …