Thousands of credit- and debit-card holders in the Puget Sound area began receiving letters this week saying their card information has...

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Thousands of credit- and debit-card holders in the Puget Sound area began receiving letters this week saying their card information has been stolen by hackers.

They are among 40 million cardholders whose names, card numbers and expiration dates were taken last month from a card-processing company based in Atlanta. The theft was reported publicly last week.

Some Seattle institutions are replacing customers’ cards without being asked, while some are leaving it up to the cardholders. Still others appear to be keeping an eye on compromised accounts for fraud without necessarily telling customers that their card information was pilfered.

Early this week, Watermark Credit Union in Seattle sent letters to about 4,500 credit and debit cardholders saying their information had been stolen in the break-in.

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Spokesman Jerry Sparrow said it is too early to know how many customers will want new cards, but that in similar situations in the past about 20 percent have requested replacements.

Financial institutions regularly monitor customer accounts for fraudulent activity, and sometimes inform customers that their card information has been compromised.

But the theft of data from the Tucson operations center of CardSystems Solutions last month is considered one of the largest card-information heists ever.

Has your number been stolen?


How to know if you’re affected: Check credit-card statements carefully for unauthorized activity. If you have a debit card, watch for unusual activity in your bank accounts as well.

If you are affected: Contact your bank or credit-card company to point out possible fraudulent charges.

Liability: Many banks and card companies will not hold you liable for unauthorized charges if you point them out in a timely manner.

Source: The Seattle Times

Boeing Employees’ Credit Union in Tukwila also began sending letters this week to about 48,000 debit and credit-card customers who were affected. The credit union plans to reorder cards for everyone.

“If we were to shut them down right now, people wouldn’t be able to use them, and that would be a big inconvenience,” said spokesman Todd Pietzsch. He was not sure how much it will cost the credit union to replace that many cards.

HomeStreet Bank in Seattle is still sorting out information it received this week from Visa on how many of its debit cardholders were affected. Paulette Lemon, head of retail banking, said the bank plans to send a letter to affected customers next week and replace all the compromised cards by the end of next month.

That’s been HomeStreet’s practice when card information was compromised in the past, Lemon said.

“We felt this was the best way to service our customers and to protect our account relationships,” she said.

Washington Mutual already has told 1,400 customers it would replace their cards, because they were considered at high risk for fraudulent activity.

The giant Seattle-based thrift is still gathering information on how many more of its 10.5 million debit-card accounts might have been compromised.

“Those are folks whose information may have been stolen from CardSystems but have not shown evidence of fraudulent activity,” said WaMu spokeswoman Libby Hutchinson.

After past breaches, WaMu typically has sent letters telling customers to keep a close eye on their accounts, she said. She was not sure whether WaMu will send letters in this case, but said “we’re moving as fast as we possibly can.”

Historically, WaMu has not automatically replaced cards for customers whose information may have been stolen, if there was no sign of fraudulent activity. The cost to the bank is one factor, but also “it’s disruptive to customers,” Hutchinson said.

A spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which has a large Seattle presence, said the bank has put in place extra security measures and will inform customers immediately if fraud is suspected.

A spokeswoman for Charlotte-based Bank of America, also big in Seattle, declined to say whether the bank is going beyond its usual fraud-monitoring procedures, which include contacting cardholders if it sees the potential for misuse.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com