Visa drops Atlanta-area payments firm; scope of breach nearly 1.5 million

But Global Payments officials, in a conference call with investment analysts Monday, said the breach was “contained,” and that important data such as card holders’ names, addresses and Social Security numbers were not accessed. The company said it is cooperating in a federal investigation.

Global Payments continues to process Visa transactions despite being dropped from a list of processors that meet certain data security standards. Global Payments CEO Paul Garcia said the firm would work to be quickly reinstated.

Company officials said late Sunday that fewer “than 1.5 million card numbers may have been exported” by hackers.

Global Payments officials told analysts the company identified a possible breach about three weeks ago and immediately notified law enforcement and card companies.

Beverly Harzog, an Atlanta-based credit card expert and consumer advocate for, said it was not surprising that Visa would at least temporarily suspend Global Payments as the incident is investigated.

Consumers who are concerned about the safety of their accounts should contact their bank and monitor their accounts online, Harzog said. She also recommends checking credit reports at least three times a year.

Credit card companies will issue new cards to affected customers, though customers might be liable for up to $50, Harzog said. Banks might agree to waive such fees, she said.

“Consumers have to have your own back, follow up, check your credit report and do your due diligence and do all you can to protect yourself,” she said.

Georgia, and metro Atlanta in particular, is a global financial technology hub.

Global Payments processes billions of transactions each year -- including credit and debit cards, gift cards and checks -- at more than 1 million places worldwide, according to the company's website. Besides Visa, the firm processes major credit card providers such as American Express, Discover and MasterCard.

The company said merchant systems were not involved in the breach.

On Friday, Global Payments said its systems had been compromised and that it had “self-reported” the “unauthorized access into a portion of its processing system.”

Brett Huff, an analyst with Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, called the breach “serious” on Monday, though he credited Global Payments for being “upfront and clear.”

Huff said it is important that Global Payments discovered the breach, and that it did not come to the company’s attention from affected customers.

“We still don’t know what the total impact is," Huff said, "but again, it sounds like they contained it and found it relatively quickly, and that’s a big help.”

Harzog, the expert, said she was “frustrated by the pace” in which information was rolled out. But she said part of that was likely because of the complexity of the situation.

Also on Monday, Global Payments announced its third-quarter earnings and said revenue grew 17 percent to $533.5 million compared with the third quarter of last fiscal year. Profit was up 21 percent to $57.9 million.

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