- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) — The FBI Wednesday was investigating one of the largest credit card hacking incidents in American history.

Eight million Visa, MasterCard and, to a lesser extent, American Express customers are said to be affected.

So far, there are no reports the accessed numbers have been used to buy anything.

The numbers actually were accessed from a third-party company that processes the numbers for retailers.

Though neither the credit card companies nor the FBI were saying much about the hacking Wednesday, the companies were quick to assure customers they would not be held responsible for illegal purchases.

VISA issued a statement a statement of reassurance Tuesday.

"Visa U.S.A has been informed by a third-party payment card processor about an unauthorized intrusion into its computer system," the statement said. "On the rare occasions when there is a potential that account information may be compromised, Visa quickly moves to protect the security of cardholders. It is important for Visa cardholders to know they are fully protected by Visa's $0 liability policy, which means they pay nothing in the event of unauthorized purchases."

American Express was telling worried customers that it too had zero-expense policy for illegal purchases, but like the other two companies it said it had no way to inform individual cardholders that a particular number had been compromised.

"Only a relatively few American Express accounts" were accessed, an American Express customer representative told one cardholder Wednesday. "American Express is closely monitoring the situation … We're advising you to watch your statement and notify the company of any irregularities. You're not held responsible for any unauthorized purchases."

The investigation comes at a time when the FBI is already strained by nationwide investigations and surveillance of possible terrorist activities.

But the credit card system is considered a critical part of the American economy.

The hacking is being investigated in part by the National Infrastructure Protection Center, a multi-agency unit within the FBI's Washington headquarters.

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