Stolen TJX Data Was Used One Month Before Retailer Learned Of The Breach

Information stolen from the systems of massive retailer TJX was being used fraudulently in November 2006 in an $8 million giftcard scheme, one month before TJX officials said they learned of the breach, according to Florida law enforcement officials.

The significance of this new TJX detail?discovered as Florida authorities issued arrest warrants for 10 suspects and took six of them into custody--is not clear, but it might yield clues as to how TJX learned of the breach.

The $16 billion retail chain has officially said that a huge amount of information was accessed as early as 2005 (with some of the captured data dating back to 2003), but that TJX officials didn't learn of the breach until December 2006. The company didn't announce the breach until mid-January 2007, because?according to one credit-card source--of a request from the Secret Service that it was actively pursuing a suspect.

The Florida information raises the possibility that whoever took the data had decided to start using it late last year. Law enforcement pursuing those cases would have found TJX as the common link among all, potentially prompting TJX to more closely examine its systems.

In the Florida case, a group used TJX credit- and debit-card information to do a low-tech clone scam to the tune of about $8 million. The group is accused of taking credit cards and applying new magstripes containing the stolen data. It was not clear if the credit cards displayed the same numbers in plastic embossing that were in the magstripe, said Dominick Pape, the special agent in charge for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Florida officials released the names of the six suspects who were arrested: Irving Escobar, 18; Reinier Camaraza Alvarez, 27; Julio Oscar Alberti, 33; Dianelly Hernandez, 19; Nair Zuleima Alvarez, 40; and Zenia Mercedes Llorente, 23. Four others are still at large, Pape said.

The group has been charged with an organized scheme to defraud and they are also being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, which participated in the arrests.

Florida officials said the group used the increasingly common tactic of using the bogus credit cards to purchase giftcards and then cashing them at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores. The group usually purchased $400 giftcards because when the giftcards were valued at $500 or more, they were required to go to customer service and show identification, Pape said.

The gift card float technique is attractive to thieves because it buys them more time. When a credit card is stolen and detected by the victim, today's thief knows that it's only a matter of hours before the card will be invalidated.

But if the thief immediately uses the card to purchase giftcards, it significantly buys time. Once the credit card is deactivated, it may take days or weeks before authorities learn what was purchased down to the exact identification number of those giftcards and then start invalidating those giftcards.

Florida authorities have video of their suspects from both inside the store and outside, where videotape captured the license plate of a rented vehicle one of the suspects was driving. Items purchased included computers, gaming devices and big screen televisions, police said.

At this stage, authorities are hoping to press the group to identify where they got the card data, on the theory that it will ultimately lead them to the cyber thieves who struck TJX. Pape said it was unlikely that the 10 suspects were the ones who had attacked TJX. "We do not have information today that they were at the high end of the compromise," he said.

In other TJX news this week, a TJX shareholder?the Arkansas Carpenters Pension Fund?is suing TJX to access records showing how TJX handled data security.