1.5M Visa, MasterCard accounts at risk in Global Payments data breach

Visa and MasterCard officials revealed that more than 1.5 million credit card accounts could have been exposed during a data breach in the first quarter of 2012. Both payment platform providers notified member banks about potential exposure at a third-party payment processing network. Wall Street Journal reporters confirmed the breach with representatives at Global Payments, Inc., the country's seventh largest merchant payment processor.

Visa urges caution, emphasizes fraud protection

In a statement on Visa's corporate website, company officials assured cardholders that Visa holds issuing banks and merchant processors responsible for ensuring secure transmission of cardholder information. The statement encouraged Visa cardholders to review their credit card statements and online banking services for signs of fraudulent usage.

Visa's statement highlighted the company's zero liability fraud protection policy. The policy exempts customers from any responsibility for fraudulent transactions on Visa credit cards, even though Federal laws allow for consumers to absorb as much as $50 in charges after an account breach.

MasterCard blogs about credit card security

On MasterCard Worldwide's official blog, company spokeswoman Barb King offered additional security tips. In addition to emphasizing MasterCard's own zero liability policy for unauthorized transactions, King noted that many data breaches involve criminals who use stolen data for phishing attacks instead of for shopping sprees.

King advised MasterCard customers to be wary of email or phone calls from representatives claiming to work for issuing banks. King reminded cardholders that MasterCard and its affiliated banks would not "proactively solicit personal or payment card information from customers." MasterCard, like Visa, has issued alerts to member banks about accounts it believes may have been compromised during the data attack.

Global Payments initially told reporters only that its network experienced unauthorized access on two occasions in January and February of 2012. Early reports indicated that only about 50,000 credit card numbers had been exposed during the attack. After further investigation, Global Payments officials confirmed that intruders could have gained knowledge of more than 1.5 million credit card numbers. The company has since suffered a stock price drop of nearly 10 percent, while Visa has removed it from its official list of preferred processors.