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Credit card data theft could grow in scale

Both MasterCard and Visa have confirmed a security breach at a U.S. based retailer that may have compromised the credit card information of an undetermined number of their customers. While the companies have yet to indicate that there is an information technology-related element to the attack, the incident follows on the footsteps on a number of high profile consumer data losses by LexisNexis, ChoicePoint and others, and is likely to draw comparisons to those events. One source familiar with the incident said the data theft could affect a number of additional banks and credit card companies.

While neither credit card giant has reported any identity thefts related to the incident, and in fact the companies claim such an event would be unlikely -- based on the fact that they do not store personal identification information such as social security numbers or dates of birth anywhere on their cards -- mention of the data loss is likely to find its way into information protection legislation currently being mulled over by the federal government. Earlier this week, members of Congress pledged an aggressive response to the growing litany of consumer data mishaps, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a beefed-up version of her bill to combat identity theft.