Credit Card Theft – The 5 Biggest Credit Card Heists in History

Credit Card Identity Theft

This is how identity thieves actually do their work.

Is the financial data that big companies have been keeping on you really that secure? While they try their best, there have been some huge credit card capers over the past few years whereby massive amounts of financial information, including complete credit card accounts, have been stolen by credit card hackers and thieves.

Worse, credit card theft often happens without these companies finding out about it, until it’s much too late. Consequently, these companies often don’t want the general public to find out about these huge gaffes, but we’re here to present to you the biggest credit card heists, as well as details on how it all went down.

Read on to learn about the 5 biggest cases of credit card fraud that we could find (plus, one bonus credit card scam just to add to your knowledge of the various types of credit card fraud). Don’t worry, this article hopefully won’t make you too mad/paranoid by the time you get to the end because we will be sure and let you know all of the credit card fraud penalties and all of the credit card fraud punishment that the different credit card thieves received – when they were caught that is… whoops, maybe now it’s time to go back to being mad and paranoid…

#1 The TJX Heist

TJ Maxx Credit Card Theft

Maxxed out.

Date: 2007

Data Stolen: 40 million credit cards; large volumes of customer data

Potential Financial Damage: $1 billion

Caught? One of 11 suspects has pleaded guilty

TJX is the parent company of the department store chains T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. What’s amazing is the simplicity of this hack. The thieves were able to gather data via snooping on unsecured networks that were transferring data between point of sale units. These were wireless networks that were basically being run unencrypted. This was a major operation with well over ten people involved in the theft, and not everyone in on this scam has been brought to justice.

#2 The Best Western Heist

Best Western Credit Card Theft

Best Western, Worst Security

Date: 2008

Data Stolen: Credit card details from every guest of the chain’s 1,300 hotels over three months

Potential Financial Damage: $4 billion

Caught? Nope

A group of criminals pierced into Best Western’s IT network and extracted information about the guests staying at the hotel chain’s 1,312 hotels between 2007 and 2008. This included guests’ credit card numbers, addresses, and phone numbers, giving the thieves a perfect way to steal their identities and go on a potential spending spree.

What’s amazing is the volume of data that was stolen before it was detected. The damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars, and the thieves are still at large.

#3 The 7-Eleven Heist

7-11 Credit Card Theft

24/7 Robbery

Date: 2009

Data Stolen: Credit card details from 140 million customers

Potential Financial Damage: Total damage unknown; company has paid $12 million to card issuers already

Caught? Albert Gonzalez and two Russian nationals face 35 years in prison

Credit card processing company Heartland Financial Systems, which handles the electronic credit transfers for many regional grocery chains and for retailer 7-Eleven, was robbed due to a vulnerability in their IT security. The thieves used something called a “SQL injection attack” to breach the firewalls that protected customer data. (At least it took more planning than logging onto a wireless network.) Ironically, Heartland had recently passed the Payment Card Security Standard certification, which typically proves strong financial security practices.

#4 The CardSystems Heist

CardSystems Credit Card Theft

Yep, that’s your Gold Card being used by criminals all over the world. Great logo.

Yep, that’s your Gold Card being used by criminals all over the world. Great logo.

Date: 2005

Data Stolen: 36 million Visa and MasterCard customers

Potential Financial Damage: Worldwide total unknown

Caught? News reports point only to an “unauthorized individual”

CardSystems is an Arizona-based credit card processor that suffered from someone, possibly internally, hacking into their network. Not long after the initial break in, banks as far away as Asia’s HSBC and Bank of China reported leaked customer information as a result of the CardSystems breach.
Further compounding the issue for CardSystems is the fact that their logo refers to a gigantic golden card making its rounds across the globe. Nice design, but they might want to consider rebranding since this issue became public.

#5  The Citibank/UPS Heist

Citibank Credit Card Theft


Date: 2005

Data Stolen: 3.9 million consumer lending customers

Potential Financial Damage: Unknown

Caught? Hmm, Citibank says the info was “lost”

A United Parcel Service truck carrying sensitive data tapes seemingly lost the material en route. Contained on the tapes was information related to Citibank’s lending customers: details like their home address, Social Security numbers, and complete account history.

It seems like the last time we shipped something through UPS, we received a tracking number, so perhaps Citibank should start paying a little extra for delivery confirmation. Seriously, how do you “lose” nearly 4 million customer records? Maybe they meant to use the word “stolen.”

BONUS HEIST: Help Desk Worker Aids Nigerians

Nigeria Credit Card Theft

The Nigerians paid $30 per identity.

Date: 2002

Data Stolen: 30,000 American identities

Potential Financial Damage: Between $50 and $100 million

Caught? Yes

Philip Cummings was a computer help desk worker at a software company called Teledata Communications that provided banks with access to credit databases. With easy access to a wide array of passwords, Cummings was able to pass himself off as a representative for Ford Motor Company in order to access tens of thousands of credit profiles. He then sold this information to a group of Nigerians who fed the stolen records to a network of criminals around the world.

Cummings was finally caught and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. For the thousands of people whose lives were affected, it probably seemed like a small price for him to pay.

So, umm wanna apply for a credit card?

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or any other credit card company or issuer. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any credit card company or issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any credit card company or issuer. Credit Card Chaser may be compensated through various affiliate programs with advertisers. As always, Credit Card Chaser is an independent website commmitted to helping people research credit card offers and find the best credit card!