MIAMI -

With less than a week until Christmas, a real-life Grinch has stolen the credit and debit card information of about 40 million Target shoppers.

Target says anyone who made purchases by swiping cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.

"Especially on Black Friday when there's who knows how many billions of dollars that are going to be transacted," said technology expert Craig Agranoff. "It's very easy for a sophisticated group and they can do it without being detected."

The stolen information included Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard. "The only way -- if you want to prevent this -- is don't use a credit card."

"It is very hard for any of us to protect ourselves from that," said Agranoff.

The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

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Published On: Dec 19 2013 09:27:25 AM EST   Updated On: May 05 2014 10:02:09 AM EDT

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If you see suspicious charges, report the activity to your credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. You can report cases of identity theft to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

You can get more information about identity theft on the FTC's website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by calling the FTC, at (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338).