Have A Credit Card? Uh Oh …

Last week two pieces of mail arrived on the same day: One was my Medicare card and the other was a letter congratulating me on the impending birth of my new baby. I laughed till I had to change my Depends. (Just kidding on the Depends – really!)

The next day I got a letter from one of my retail store credit card companies. My laughter turned to tears.

“Thank you for your continued business with your (name withheld) credit card, issued by HSBC. Enclosed are three important account disclosures relating to your privacy.”

The insert from HSBC (who is HSBC?) began to explain what it does with my personal information. “Financial companies choose how they share your personal information. Federal law gives consumers the right to limit some but not all sharing.”

My throat tightening, I read on. The personal information they can share includes: Social Security number and income, account balances and payment history and credit history and credit scores.

Slamming down the papers, I dialed the listed 800 number without reading another word and canceled my card, feeling better having stanched the information bleed from at least one card. Then, I read the rest of that little insert. “When you are no longer our customer, we continue to share your information as described in this notice.” The top of my head blew off.

I Googled HSBC and learned that it’s a British multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in London and the world’s second-largest banking and financial services group behind Citibank. Turns out that Best Buy, Neiman Marcus, Costco and Saks Fifth Avenue, to name a few, use HSBC’s “private label” credit card services versus “in-house” credit – almost obsolete now.

I feel so naive. How many of you, like me, signed up for a credit card at too many stores to remember just to get the 10 or 20 percent discount, then came home and cut it up? How many realize that all your personal information is now legally being passed around the world used for marketing and, really, who knows what else? HSBC’s data processing is done in India, China, Brazil, Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. Feel safer now?

Add to all this, on April 2 the nightly news reported that Global Payments Inc., a credit card processing company (middleman between banks and merchants) for Visa and MasterCard, had a security breach with bank card numbers being hacked. The company claimed 1.5 million credit card numbers were “exported,” meaning they didn’t just look at the card numbers. But, Krebs on Security, a security news and investigation company, says the breach may involve more than 10 million card numbers and was discovered in early March but not announced for a month. More shocking still, somehow this is all related to a street gang from the Dominican Republic and Visa and MasterCard are mum, except with the news that Visa has fired Global Payments Inc. Sounds like a James Bond plot.

Oh, I forgot. The same day the credit card breach was announced, Citibank called to say that our MasterCard had been used in a vending machine in Pennsylvania (common way to test if they can get away with using a stolen or counterfeit card). So, for the second time this year we’ve been issued a new card.

Anyway, to recap, all us credit card holders are exposed. The law says we can’t limit our credit card companies from sharing our personal information even if we’ve ripped that card to bits. We can only control the marketing, but good luck. How many emails and junk mail lands in your inbox or mailbox from random companies?

Simultaneously receiving my Medicare card and a new baby congratulations notice has led me on a path to discovering that having credit cards is plain risky. The only good news is that, although I didn’t even know I was pregnant, at least my Medicare will cover the birth – and so, probably, will CNN.