Security breach hits Vail Valley debit card holders |

Security breach hits Vail Valley debit card holders

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” A security breach at the nation’s largest credit card processing company last year could put locals at risk for theft and fraud.

Heartland Payment Systems announced Jan. 20 ” inauguration day ” that it had discovered a security breach in its computer systems in 2008. The company still hasn’t announced how many customers or businesses might be affected. But a lot of locals could potentially be exposed to credit card theft.

A Web site Heartland set up to get out information on the breach states that only card number and expiration dates were taken, and that no Social Security numbers or home addresses were lost.

“You can still do plenty of damage with that information,” Alpine Bank Eagle Branch President Rachel Overlease said.

Mike Baker, in Alpine’s electronic banking department, said the number of people affected still isn’t known. Initial estimates for all of Alpine Bank start at 3,500 customers. And, Baker said, the card number information could have been stolen from as many as 250,000 merchants.

Heartland isn’t releasing the names of the affected merchants, Baker said.

“And they won’t, because the merchants haven’t done anything wrong,” he added.

But, with that many merchants, the number of stolen card numbers could be staggering.

American National Bank has already replaced the debit cards of 2,500 customers at its banks in Colorado and Wyoming.

“And if a card is compromised, the customer won’t take the loss,” bank spokeswoman Nancy Harvey said.

Harvey added that American National Bank has a program called “ID Safe Choice,” that can help consumers with theft and even the broader problem of identity theft. The bank can help a customer with accounts that aren’t held at American.

At Alpine Banks, Overlease said employees can help customers who have been identity theft victims.

Customers aren’t responsible for unauthorized charges on bank cards, but the bankers interviewed for this story said customers need to pay close attention to their accounts and call their banks immediately if there’s been any suspicious activity.

“In most illegal transactions the card will be used for a short time,” Baker said.

Baker said the response to the Heartland breach has been unlike anything he’s seen. He said he’d been told that the people responsible for the account number theft may be working outside the United States, but that the Secret Service and other federal agencies have been working the case, and hard.

That response may be quicker than in whatever country houses the people working this theft.

Baker said at a recent seminar he was told that “In this country we see credit card fraud as a crime, but some countries see it as economic development.”

However the Heartland theft works out, Baker said it could change the way credit card security is handled.

“This is going to be a big event in the world of security breaches,” he said. “We’ve experienced the theft of laptops and computers, but this is much, much bigger. I’m sure we’re going to have to develop different kinds of protection.”

– Watch your credit and debit card accounts closely.

– Notify your bank of suspicious activity as soon as you notice it.

– Work with your bank to correct any charges you didn’t make.

– Check your credit report at least annually.

– Don’t give your card number to anyone who contacts you first.

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