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NEW YORK Data apparently stolen from the popular clothing retailer Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is forcing banks and credit card issuers to notify thousands of consumers that their credit card information may have been exposed.

HSBC North America, a division of London based HSBC Holdings PLC, has begun notifying holders of the HSBC issued, General Motors branded MasterCard that criminals may have obtained access to their credit card information and that the cards should be replaced.

HSBC spokesman Stephen E. Cohen said Thursday that began doing it last week, and we are continuing. said that about 180,000 GM branded card holders are affected.

Neither Cohen nor spokesmen for MasterCard International would identify the retailer by name.

The security breach was reported in Thursday editions of The Wall Street Journal, which quoted with knowledge of the matter as saying the data was stolen at Polo Ralph Lauren.

A spokeswoman at Polo Ralph Lauren, which is headquartered in New York, said have no comment at the moment on the report. She asked that her name not be used.

It was the latest in a series of data thefts that have increased public concern about the security of their personal information.

ChoicePoint Inc., which is based in suburban Atlanta, disclosed in February that thieves, who operated undetected for more than a year, opened up 50 accounts and received vast amounts of data on some 145,000 consumers nationwide.

In March, DSW Shoe Warehouse,
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based in Columbus, Ohio, said that more than 100,000 customers of a shoe store chain likely were affected by a cyber break in of the company database.

Earlier this week, London based Reed Elsevier, which owns LexisNexis, revealed that criminals may have breached computer files containing the personal information of 310,000 people since January 2003.

It was unclear how many other cards might be at risk, but both Visa USA Inc. and MasterCard the nation largest credit card associations were reported to be dealing with Polo Ralph Lauren on the matter.

into this incident by MasterCard, law enforcement and other parties are ongoing, the statement said. merchant of a possible data security breach. Visa USA said it was working with the merchant, law enforcement agencies and its bank members monitor and prevent card related fraud. response to a reporter query, Citigroup Inc., the nation largest financial institution, confirmed that it currently was some customers who we think may be at risk. The New York based bank said it takes action when notified by Visa or MasterCard of potential security breaches,
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but gave no other details.