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40 millions credit, debit cards hit by Target data breach

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By Alastair Jamieson, NBC News

(NBC) - Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts used by Target customers may have been impacted by a major data breach, the retailer said Thursday.

Customer names and credit or debit card numbers are involved in the breach - along with the expiration date and three-digit CVV security code of each card, the store said.

READ MORE | What to do if you fear your card has been stolen

The company said in a statement that it was "aware of unauthorized access to payment card data that may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases" between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 - the height of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday shopping period.

It is one of the largest ever breaches of consumer information, echoing the 2007 theft of data from at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards of shoppers at retailers including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls.  

"Target alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after it was made aware of the unauthorized access, and is putting all appropriate resources behind these efforts," the statement said. "Among other actions, Target is partnering with a leading third-party forensics firm to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident."

Investigators believe the data was obtained via software installed on machines that customers use to swipe magnetic strips on their cards when paying for merchandise at Target stores, according Reuters, citing a source who was not authorized to discuss the matter.

"Target's first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause," said Gregg Steinhafel, who is Target's chairman, president and chief executive officer. "We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice."

Krebs on Security, a blog that first reported the news, said that breach involved nearly all Target outlets in the United States, citing sources at two credit card issuers.

Target Corp. said that customers who made purchases at its U.S. stores during the impacted period and suspected unauthorized activity should call them at 866-852-8680.

Target has 1,797 U.S. stores and 124 in Canada.

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