Initial reports of a possible large scale breach of credit card data from a payment processing company in Spain are sketchy at best and the lack of information is not helping to allay the concerns of credit card customers across Europe.
In a statement released today, the Zentraler Kreditausschuss (Central Credit Committee) explained that German banks were acting in response to a warning issued by Visa and Mastercard over a potential data theft at a Spanish company. The Spanish company in question has not yet been identified as it is the subject of police investigations but it is widely believed to be a payment processing company responsible for dealing with payments made in Spain using credit cards issued in foreign countries.
In what is being described as a “primarily preventative measure” many German banks have begun cancelling more than 100,000 credit cards, notifying the card holders and issuing replacements. The mass replacement of cards is not restricted to Germany; banks in Austria Sweden and Finland have also begun to reissue credit cards according to reports.
Ralf Palm, a spokesman for Postbank in Germany, noted that their customers and the bank itself had already noted “irregularities” seeming to demonstrate that the stolen or leaked information is already circulating in underground carding circles.
What remains unclear is the extent of the data theft. How many people have been affected and exactly what information other than card details has been stolen? In a further indication of the Europe-wide scale of the problem, the BBC reports that “UK customers will be contacted directly if they are thought to be at risk.”
Despite the sketchy details so far available the data theft bears uncomfortable similarities to the Heartland Payment Systems breach in the US which was eventually responsible for exposing the details of more than 130 million credit and debit card accounts.
If you have used any plastic in Spain in recent months prepare yourself to learn a new PIN number or two. It may be worth revisiting your credit card and bank statements and keeping a close eye on any future statements. Of course you should contact your bank or financial institution immediately if you notice any suspicious activity on your accounts.