By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A massive fraud scheme is affecting 40 million holiday shoppers. If you used your credit or debit card at Target during the past few weeks, thieves may have gained access to your personal information.

Mike Hellgren looks into how they did it and what you should do now.

In one of the largest retail security breaches ever, thieves struck Target during the year’s busiest shopping season–stealing with every swipe credit card numbers, names, expiration dates, and three-digit security codes from everyone who used their credit or debit cards starting Nov. 27 all the way through to Dec. 15.

“This essentially is the holy grail of a data breach,” said Robert Sicliano, McAfee online security expert. “When this server that’s responsible for talking to all these stores’ credit card terminals was breached, bad guys were in there, saw all the data, recorded it all, and from there can make charges to your credit card.”

Target says they “alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after we discovered and confirmed the unauthorized access, and we are putting our full resources behind these efforts.”

Related Link: Message From Target

But many Maryland shoppers are still worried.

“The hackers are way ahead of us.  You have to use caution and only use your credit or debit card when you have to,” said Jane Frank, Target customer.

Fraud experts say keep a close eye on your bank statements and your credit report.

Related Link: Annual Credit Report

“Your credit report can start getting messed up.  If these guys are in there, it can make your life miserable,” said Tom Gallagher, Better Business Bureau.

“If 40 million cards were actually breached, it’s going to take the bad guys a long time to get through all 40 million cards,” Sicliano said.

“It is scary, and during the holiday time, you don’t know if you should consider using your cards–not just at Target but at other stores, too,” said Bartina Mason, Target customer.

Target Corp. advised customers to check their statements carefully. Those who suspect there has been unauthorized activity on their cards should report it to their credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. Cases of identity theft can also be reported to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

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