Actually, Target Says, ATM Card PIN Data Was Stolen, But Don’t You Worry Because…

The breach situation for Target keeps getting worse.

Maybe Target thought it was on the verge of getting its data breach situation under control. If they did, they thought wrong.

The retailer issued a statement on Friday saying that it’s investigation has found that “strongly encrypted PIN data was removed from our system during the data breach incident. The most important thing for you to know is that your debit card account has not been compromised due to the encrypted PIN numbers being taken. PINs are safe and secure.”

Now, even more people are threatening lawsuits, adding to the 11 class action suits that have already been reportedly filed. Survey data reported on MarketWatch shows the retailer’s image has plunged to levels not seen since 2007, giving a leg up to competitors like Wal-Mart. And the breach is threatening the retailer’s bottom line.

This is not the way Target wanted to ring in the new year.

Target spokesperson Molly Snyder reiterated in a statement to Reuters that: “The most important thing for our guests to know is that their debit card accounts have not been compromised due to the encrypted PIN numbers being taken.”

But with a reputation as tarnished as Target’s, it’s going to be difficult if not impossible for shoppers to take the store at its word. Particularly when you have cyber security experts in the same story saying that the debit card information can be compromised. And banks aren’t taking any chances. A response tweet to the post above asks why Chase bank flagged the user’s card just for shopping in the store days before. Gulp.

When these sorts of crisis situations happen, general PR industry expertise states a company should have worked up a high level of trust and goodwill to make it through tough times. That way when something awful happens, you have a loyal base behind you.

But what happens when you expend all of that goodwill on a major crisis like this and then something else pops up? During the holidays, when people are on strict budgets, they don’t want excuses. They want to get their gifts stress-free and keep it moving. When they find that bits and pieces of new information make the situation worse, you’re going to have lawsuit-level backlash.

Unfortunately for Target, there isn’t much more that they can do besides keep the public informed, beef up their computer system (which all companies should be doing at this point), and hope that the investigation doesn’t turn up any more disturbing news. But they’ve got a long way to go before they can start to rebuild the trust that evaporated so quickly.