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South Korea vows severe punishment for data leaks

SEOUL -- South Korean regulators Wednesday vowed harsh corporate penalties for data theft, as angry customers swamped credit card offices for a third day after 20 million people had their financial information stolen.

“If an incident like this happens again, the company in question will be shut and its executives will no longer be able to work in this industry,” Shin Je-yoon, the head of the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), told reporters.

Shin was reacting to South Korea's largest-ever leak of private financial data that involved three credit card companies and at least 20 million clients — out of a national population of 50 million.

Credit card usage is particularly high in South Korea where the average adult has four or five cards.

The data was stolen by an employee from personal credit ratings firm Korea Credit Bureau who once worked as a temporary consultant at the three firms. He was arrested earlier this month.

The stolen data included names, social security numbers, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, home addresses, credit card numbers and even personal credit ratings.

Angry Customers

Since Monday more than two million victims have cancelled their credit cards permanently or requested new ones.

“Now all my personal data is out there, including my home and office addresses and phone numbers and even my annual income and how many times I was behind on credit card payments in the past,” said Grace Choi, a Seoul office worker.

“I'm more than angry. I'll join a class action suit if there is one,” she said.

Choi was one of hundreds of Lotte Card customers who packed the company's branch in downtown Seoul to cancel their cards and request new ones.

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