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Nordstrom’s Typhoid Outbreak Used POS Data To Contact Individual Shoppers

May 8th, 2013

Bank-based payment card systems just aren’t designed for this. Any card tied to a loyalty system is easy to track, but when there’s nothing but a name and card number, at a minimum a customer address requires jumping through hoops to get it from the card-issuing bank.

Which still only helps for customers who used a payment card instead of paying cash.

Even then, it’s all but impossible to know who exactly might have actually been exposed. Typhoid is typically spread by direct contact with food, but in a busy kitchen it might be impossible to determine which line cook touched what meal orders. Even if the kitchen is highly automated (which means theoretically every food item can be tracked to a specific line cook), in reality a lot of hands can touch a plate—and that’s before customers eat off each other’s plates.

All that means Nordstrom will have to cast a wide net in sifting through POS and food-order data, just to be on the safe side.

If this whole process sounds something like a payment card breach—delayed discovery, difficulty identifying customers who will actually be affected—it clearly is. And as with a breach, the more entities involved, the harder it is to get everyone onboard with contacting customers. It may be a little easier to get issuing banks to cooperate when the problem is a disease like typhoid rather than payment-card accounts, but it’s still a challenge.

Of course, as Nordstrom tries to track down at-risk customers using systems that really weren’t designed for that, it might all be unnecessary. If that line cook was careful to wash his hands, there might be no spread of the disease at all. That’s what everyone is hoping. Unfortunately for Nordstrom, it’s still necessary for the retailer to do the best it can with the data it has available. When it comes to a card breach, waiting to see whether card numbers show up in fraud is a possible approach. When it comes to public health, waiting to see if customers get sick isn’t really an option.


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Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

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