By Tracie Potts, NBC News
The federal government has busted what it says is the largest credit card hacking scheme ever. It lasted for seven years, and millions of Americans were affected.
Authorities say the fraud involved more than a dozen of the nation's biggest stores, and claim the suspects bragged about how easy it was to steal all that information.
The Justice Department says credit card numbers were stolen from the databases of 7-Eleven, JCPenney, JetBlue and other major companies and financial institutions.
Even Wall Street was hit. Prosecutors allege the suspects then sold the numbers to other criminals for as little as $10 apiece.
"This type of crime is really the cutting edge of financial fraud," said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman.
And the numbers are staggering: 160 million accounts affected, more than $300 million in losses.
Four Russians and the Ukrainian have been charged. The feds say they stored the numbers in databases in the U.S. and around the world.
It's a warning for consumers.
"The danger is that if they don't check on a regular basis it could be a few years before they find out if their money's been stolen," said Dan Karson of Kroll Advisory Solutions.
But because banks limit individual losses, some experts say companies have little incentive to prevent fraud.
"The onus is on the bank to cover the customer, so these merchant companies, JetBlue, the payment processing, they are not on the hook," said Catherine Lotrionte, Georgetown University.
In fact, the government says the alleged hackers bragged that security's so weak, retailers would be better off paying them not to hack their computers.